Public Power for Public Housing? In San Francisco, It’s Already a Reality.

The transition to clean energy has many positive impacts – cleaner air, lowered greenhouse gas emissions, and job creation. Unfortunately, these benefits are often realized in wealthier and whiter communities first, resulting in a disparity in access to clean energy and its benefits for low-income communities and communities of color. In addition, these communities are more likely to be located near existing fossil fuels plants, which cause increased pollution levels and negatively impact people’s health.  

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is working to close this gap in accessibility to clean energy through Hetch Hetchy Power, San Francisco’s publicly owned utility. In addition to providing 100% greenhouse gas-free energy to essential city infrastructure and services, including City Hall, SFO, schools, libraries, MUNI and many more, it also plays a critical role in providing accessible, clean energy to many San Francisco affordable and public housing residents. When it comes to affordable housing, the SFPUC has made the commitment to provide power to these housing sites, ensuring the energy savings and environmental benefits of public power are delivered directly to San Franciscans who need them the most. In recent years, Hetch Hetchy Power has partnered with the City’s HOPE SF project to ensure that renovated and redeveloped public housing sites continue to receive the benefit of clean, publicly owned electricity.  

The penstocks and powerhouse in Moccasin (above) are a key part of our upcountry power infrastructure

HOPE SF launched in 2007 to rebuild four housing developments in southeast San Francisco: Hunters View, Alice Griffith, Potrero Terrace and Annex, and Sunnydale. Originally, these sites were built as temporary housing for shipyard workers during World War II. The sites are currently undergoing redevelopment and the new housing will consist of a mix of housing types and income levels. Sunnydale Parcel Q, for example, is one housing site that was recently completed and is home to 55 apartment units, community and support spaces, a play area, and bicycle parking. The apartment units are highly energy efficient, requiring less energy and lowering customer bills. The tenants who moved in to these units earlier this year will also benefit from another amenity: greenhouse gas-free electricity provided directly by the City. 

A rendering of the future Sunnydale development

“Welcoming new Hetch Hetchy Power customers like residents of Sunnydale Parcel Q and helping them get started with our service is the best part of my job,” said Becky Alderete, SFPUC Customer Engagement Manager of the Power Enterprise. “Hetch Hetchy Power delivers 100% greenhouse gas-free electricity at affordable rates to a growing customer base in San Francisco. As a not-for-profit, clean power provider, we’re able to offer a triple-bottom-line win for our customers and the community.” 

2020 brought a new set of challenges for communities throughout the country and here in San Francisco. On a global scale, the impacts of climate change were felt in the form of massive wildfires and intense storms. COVID-19 brought a public health and economic crisis, especially affecting low-income communities and communities of color. In response, Hetch Hetchy Power enrolled all eligible customers living in affordable and public housing in an emergency discount program that provides a 30% savings on monthly electric bills. The income requirements for the emergency discount program were lowered, and by virtue of having moved into the facility, all affordable housing customers automatically qualified. As a not-for-profit utility with a mandate to serve the public, Hetch Hetchy Power is meeting the needs of the local community and has helped bring significant financial relief to customers during this stressful time.