S.F. could be leader on solar energy -Props. B and H being
backed by businesses and environmentalists alike
Kay in SF Chronicle 2001.10.27
Even if it is everybody's favorite cool gray city of love, renewable
energy advocates say San Francisco has a chance to become the solar
capital of the
United States. Fog be damned. City voters are being asked on Nov.
6 to approve Proposition B, a $100 million revenue bond measure
promoting solar and wind power.
in front of his rooftop PV system overlooking San Francisco
If the proposal passes, sponsors say it would set San Francisco
on a course to produce more sun-generated electricity than any other
city in the
country. The city's frequent cloud cover would reduce the amount
of electricity generated, but experts say solar cells don't need
direct sunlight all the
time to be an effective energy source.
A second measure, Proposition H, would amend the city charter
to allow the Board of Supervisors to authorize revenue bonds for
and conservation projects without voter approval. Revenue bonds
that invest in affordable housing, airport projects and port-related
already are exempt from the voter approval requirement.
Both measures were placed on the ballot by the supervisors. Both
have support of environmental groups and the San Francisco Chamber
Commerce. The League of Women Voters opposes Prop. H, however, saying
citizens should have the right to vote on revenue bonds involving
large sums of
money. The league hasn't taken a position on Prop. B. The San Francisco
Republican Party opposes both proposals.
Proponents see the measures as a way to generate pollution-free
energy with solar panels and wind turbines at San Francisco General
Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco State University and dozens
of city-owned sites throughout the Bay Area.
It is also being promoted as a way to nudge other cities toward
cleaner energy, which backers claim would eventually bring down
the price of the
A kilowatt hour of power costs 5.5 cents to 9 cents when produced
from natural gas, compared with 18 cents from solar. Wind power
costs about 5
cents a kilowatt hour. A kilowatt hour is the amount of energy needed
to keep 10 100- watt bulbs lit for an hour.
Using a revenue bond -- repaid from the money raised by the projects
and not by the taxpayers -- could be the mechanism to even out the
more expensive renewables and cheaper fossil fuels, said San Francisco
Supervisor Mark Leno.
"When the city passes Prop. B, it will state clearly that
every other jurisdiction across the land can do the same. The demand
for the technology will
increase exponentially, at which time the cost will drop as greatly
as the demand increases," Leno said.
Prop. H would allow the supervisors to authorize issuing revenue
bonds for renewable energy and conservation projects without going
voters. "San Francisco is the only city in California that
requires voter approval of revenue bonds," said Supervisor
Tom Ammiano, a supporter of both
measures. The city needs the amendment to develop a solar entity
that has the authority to raise money with revenue bonds, Ammiano
Sacramento, with 8 megawatts of solar power, is now the country's
biggest municipal producer. Although Prop. B's $100 million investment
generate most of the megawatts from wind power, about 30 megawatts,
experts say those are only a fraction of the existing wind production.
10 megawatts from solar would make San Francisco the city with the
The 40 megawatts would provide enough electricity for 16,700 residences,
assuming each uses about 500 kilowatt hours a month. "This
is very doable. This would be just a first step," said Ed Smeloff,
assistant general manager for power policy at the San Francisco
Public Utilities Commission. Smeloff was on the board of Sacramento
Municipal Utility District at a time when it shut down a nuclear
plant and embarked on local solar, wind and gas- fired cogeneration
plants. Now, he's measuring the potential for solar on rooftops
in San Francisco, including two sewage treatment plants and five
schools, and for wind in Alameda and San Mateo counties where the
city owns ridgetops and covered reservoirs.
Even under cloud cover, the photovoltaic cells can produce energy,
just not so much as during sunny days. "The eastern side of
the city generally gets the most sun -- the U-shaped area east of
Twin Peaks," said David Hochschild, a coordinator of the pro-
Proposition B campaign, including the Mission, the eastern waterfront,
Potrero Hill and South of Market. Hochschild uses solar energy to
supply about three-quarters of his house's electricity. A 15-by-10-foot
system costs about $8,000 with a state subsidy.
more on SF Bond Measures.