Residents vote in renewables bonds -- San Francisco lead

San Francisco is on track to becoming the wind capital of the United States. In November, 72% of voters backed a bond measure that could provide financing for 30 MW of wind turbines and 10-12 MW of solar on city owned property. "Proposition B," which San Francisco officials expect to raise $100 million from bonds, calls on the city government to use energy efficiency as well as renewables.

A second measure on the November 6 ballot, also authored by city councillors and passed by a wide margin by residents, allows city officials to approve such bonds in the future without going to the voters. That means the city can handle renewable energy investments as it does the financing of other infrastructure, such as roads, water or sewer systems. "This is just a first step. It's going to take some time to phase out fossil fuels in San Francisco and we'll still have the need for back-up or peaking power," says Ed Smeloff at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. "But we are going to lessen our impact on the environment both locally and farther a field."

San Francisco city buildings use 160 MW yearly. That means that one-quarter of the power the city uses could soon be from renewable sources. Both environmental groups and the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce backed the measure.

Smeloff says the wind turbines may be installed in Alameda County, to the east of the San Francisco Bay and the Altamont Pass, or in San Mateo County to the south. The city owns ridge tops and reservoirs in both counties. Solar panels could be installed on major city buildings.

The bond strategy is already attracting notice in other California cities. "We're getting calls from Los Angeles, Oakland and Berkeley asking how we did this. People are saying, 'We're impressed by the overwhelming vote. How can we do something similar?'" Smeloff was on the board of Sacramento Municipal Utility District when the city closed down a nuclear plant and started investing in renewables.