local power

4281 Piedmont Avenue Oakland, California 94611

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San Francisco Solar Plant
Press Conference

City Hall, San Francisco

May 16, 2001


Local Power is currently preparing several California cities to build some of the largest renewable energy projects in the world in response to the state’s energy crisis. While continuing in its groundbreaking national work on community-wide electricity purchasing laws, we view the state’s energy crisis as an unprecedented opportunity for large-scale community-based conservation and renewable resource development. Our work consists of educating local governments about building solar, wind and other renewable resources in the immediate term, offering technical assistance to local officials throughout a city or county’s solicitation process, and developing (unprecedented) generic “Community Power” bidding document and contract templates adapted to the particular budgetary, risk management, and revenue bonding conditions facing local governments.


As “Community Choice” legislation (AB48x by Assemblymember Migden-SF) awaits passage in the state legislature, we are now offering policy guidance and technical assistance for the energy crisis to city officials throughout California, focusing our efforts in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles County, and San Diego County.


Our leading project is sponsored by the President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Tom Ammiano has announced his support of Local Power’s proposal that the City initiate competitive bidding for construction of a 50 MW solar photovoltaic “Community Power” network.


This will be the world’s largest solar utility. 


It will produce six times the output of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s system, currently the largest. Depending on the technology used, the Plant will cover at least 138 acres of rooftops throughout the city.  In terms of scalability, this could serve 50,000 apartments with 1kw systems, 450 large commercial buildings with 125kw systems, 167 extremely large commercial buildings with 300kw systems, or 50 Walmart-scale monster buildings with 1MW systems. The Plant will serve 5% of the entire community’s peak electricity consumption, - the threshold for a Stage 2 Alert  - and result in a massive greenhouse gas reduction. 


The 1997 Kyoto treaty set a 7% reduction target by 2012, but U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have increased significantly since then. With the Bush administration calling for more domestic oil drilling and nuclear power development as the answer to climate change, the San Francisco Solar Plant will serve as a model for other cities looking to protect their communities against blackouts and address climate change at the same time.


Community Power


We are now preparing similar proposals for other cities and counties in our network throughout California. The RFP model, which we call “Community Power” for its resemblance to Community Choice, is a model for large-scale development of renewable distributed generation by local governments. (1) Like Community Choice, the Community Power RFP transfers the risks associated with energy supply to the private sector, a major parameter for risk-averse local governments. (2) Community Power can operate under a variety of energy crisis outcomes for cities, including a Community Choice law, public power takeover, or neither. (3) In the likely event that the Community Choice bill becomes law in coming months, Community Power will provide a needed stimulus to trigger bulk wholesale power competition in a failed deregulated energy market.


California faces not one energy crisis but two: an electricity price crisis and an electric pollution crisis. The electric industry is the largest contributor to global warming. While the U.S. has patently failed in its efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that have, in fact, increased since the Kyoto treaty, California’s energy crisis offers a unique opportunity for an offensive strategy to build renewable energy and conservation on an unprecedented scale, and to show that there can be a light at the end of the Climate Change tunnel. Local Power’s efforts to promote Community Choice have already resulted in Kyoto compliance for one metropolitan area, and the San Francisco project alone will approach Kyoto-level reduction targets - if not actually meet them.


While the opportunity to do something about global warming is new to California cities, the issue is not new. Cities were singled out at the 1992 Rio Summit as the key government level in the effort to reduce greenhouse gases, in response to which California cities currently consume more than half of the green power sold in California for their municipal facilities. Unfortunately – until Community Choice becomes law - these “Green RFPs” are limited to municipal facilities. While green-powered municipal facilities comprise 2-5% of a community’s consumption and are too small to have any appreciable impact on global warming, they demonstrate a mainstream political will to meet the Rio Summit challenge at the local level. Given the opportunity with resources and authority (Community Choice and Community Power), they will do just that.


The premise of the Community Power project is that a low-risk, revenue-bondable municipal RFP for massive renewable energy deployment is an unprecedented opportunity to both protect communities against blackouts and raise the bar on the scale of public commitment in the fight against global warming.  California’s energy market crisis provides an historic window of opportunity for cities to meet the challenges made at Rio in 1992. With blackouts looming, the political will to build solar, wind, and other clean energy capacity on an unprecedented scale will be at its height this Summer. With five years of local government networking and education around Community Choice in place, Local Power is poised to lead this effort.


Community Choice


Since 1996, Local Power has been developing structural, quantifiable solutions for local governments to meaningfully impact the problem of Global Warming. Paul Fenn drafted and filed the original Community Choice law for Massachusetts in 1995 when he directed the state’s Senate Energy Committee.  Community Choice authorizes local governments to aggregate their electricity customer base and to contract with a supplier to provide energy. 

The second state to pass the law, Ohio (1999), demonstrates the significance of large volume purchasing through local government.  Under the state’s Community Choice law, one hundred cities in the Cleveland area of Cuyahoga County recently signed a contract for their 450,000 customers with Green Mountain Power.  The contract resulted in three dramatic outcomes, (1) those cities collectively reduced their output of carbon dioxide emissions by 30%, (2) did it for a lower price than they had previously paid for an energy mix of 60% coal and 40% nuclear, and (3) increased Green Mountain’s national customer base from 100,000 to 550,000 overnight, representing a massive new opportunity in the green electricity market. 


With technical support from Local Power, 12 California cities passed resolutions asking for a Community Choice bill in 1999-2000. Legislation was drafted by Paul Fenn in January 2000 and sponsored by Assemblymember and Appropriations Committee Chair Carole Migden (D-SF) in January 2001.  AB48x passed the Assembly Energy Costs and Availability Committee in March with a vote of 19 to 1 and the Assembly Appropriations Committee in May with a unanimous vote.  With broad support this legislation is expected to become law some time this summer. Local Power’s coalition of cities and counties for Community Choice now provides fertile ground for the Community Power project.


City officials including Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano, Marin County Board of Supervisors President Hal Brown, and Southern California Cities Joint Powers Consortium Executive Director Albert Vera, as well as the League of California Cities, the California Association of Counties, and 30 California cities and counties led by San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Marin County and the Los Angeles County-based Consortium (representing 500,000 residents), have endorsed the legislation, many by municipal and county resolutions. Organizations including CALPIRG, League of Women Voters of California, Greenpeace, TURN (The Utility Reform Network), Global Exchange, as well as Ralph Nader, have also endorsed. Industry groups such as the Western Power Trading Forum and Green Mountain Power now recognize the need for Community Choice as a key structural reform to AB1890, and are counted as strong supporters.


Many members of the coalition of 30 cities and counties endorsing of the California Community Choice bill are now looking to Local Power for education and technical support on the energy crisis. Many are now deciding whether to rubber stamp permits for natural gas fired power plants, or consider alternative energy sources. Community Power is essentially the second phase of Community Choice, moving the same solicitation-based model from bulk power procurement to new infrastructure development. Given the volatility of the state’s wholesale power market, many cities view local power generation as the first step in establishing rate security for their communities. The opportunity to pursue a sustainable energy policy is therefore immediate.


The Community Choice coalition will prove significant in building public support for solar, wind, and other renewable resources on a scale that has not been seen before. Specifically, Local Power is positioned to get projects on the books that will demonstrate the viability of large-scale renewable energy as a serious, big business solution to both the energy crisis and global warming.




Paul Fenn is the Director of Local Power, based in Oakland, California. Fenn authored the original "Community Choice" bill, Senate 447, in 1994, while serving as director of the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Energy under the chairmanship of Senator Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford). He organized a coalition of municipalities, consumer, environmental and good government groups in opposition AB1890 in 1996, acted as advisor in the drafting of Ohio’s Community Choice law in 1999, and more recently drafted the California Community Choice bill, AB48x, sponsored by California Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco). Beginning in January 2001, Fenn organized support among political leaders in San Francisco to build the world’s largest solar utility (50 MW) in response to the energy crisis. Fenn also wrote the platform and propaganda for Jerry Brown's 1998 mayoral bid in Oakland, California. Fenn also has substantial experience in the design, permitting, real estate acquisition, and deployment of wireless telecommunications systems such as cellular, PCS and GSM. He has worked as a contractor for General Cellular, Western Wireless, and Voicestream in the U.S., and for Motorola, and Lucent Technologies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Macedonia.  Fenn received his Masters degree in Intellectual History from the University of Chicago in 1992.


Julia Peters, Manager of Local Power, began organizing and fundraising for political causes in 1986 as a canvasser with the Ralph Nader-inspired Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).  After serving as the Administrative Director and then Statewide Canvass Director for the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG), she was promoted to National Canvass Director for the Boston-based Fund for Public Interest Research, the training and technical arm of the PIRGs, in 1991. Before leaving the PIRGs in 1995, Peters organized political action and fundraising campaigns for national environmental and consumer protection legislation in 16 states. In 1996 Peters returned to California to become the statewide field director for the radical Campaign Finance Reform initiative, Proposition 212. Sponsored by the coalition, Californians Against Political Corruption, 212 called for $100 contribution limits, mandatory spending limits, and a 75% in-district contribution requirement on political fundraising. 212 received 49% of the vote. In 1998 Peters became campaign manager for former California Governor Jerry Brown's Oakland mayoral bid, which received 59% of the vote in the June primary in a field of eleven candidates, electing him to Mayor.


Copyright 2001 by Local Power.