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Empowering San Francisco: The Values of Public Power and the City’s Vision

Empowering San Francisco: The Values of Public Power and the City’s Vision
  • Donald Pollitt

Public Power Week, celebrated in the first full week of October in the United States, is more than just a date on the calendar. It's a time to recognize and celebrate the incredible impact of community-owned utilities and the benefits that public power provides to 50 million people across the country.  This year, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is reflecting on its own public power story and what it means to embrace public power’s values of affordability, local control, and community reinvestment. 

San Francisco has a remarkable history of public power that spans over a century. Hetch Hetchy Power, a publicly owned utility, has been supplying clean, reliable electricity to the City for more than 100 years. San Francisco is one of the few jurisdictions in the country to have a public power utility operating in the same service territory as an investor-owned utility. Hetch Hetchy Power is a testament to the City's commitment to community-led decision-making and local control of electric utility service.

Empowering San Francisco: The Values of Public Power and the City’s Vision

San Francisco's story as a local public power provider has not been without its obstacles. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), an investor-owned monopoly, has historically hindered public projects in the City. They have imposed unnecessary conditions, limitations, and costs on the City's use of the electric grid, impacting everything from affordable housing to new public transit projects.

PG&E's obstruction has already cost San Francisco millions and jeopardizes the clean energy future that the City wants to achieve. 
In response to these challenges, San Francisco is taking a bold step. The City has the right under the California constitution to operate its own public power grid, which is why the SFPUC is actively pursuing the acquisition of PG&E's local electric distribution network. This move will enable San Francisco to deliver clean Hetch Hetchy Power to all San Franciscans without PG&E standing in the way.

The push for public power in San Francisco is a growing movement.  More than 70% of San Franciscans support the transition to public power. Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors have rallied behind this initiative, emphasizing transparency and local control. 

As Public Power Week draws to a close, let's celebrate not just the past achievements of public power in San Francisco, but also the City's unwavering commitment to a clean energy future under local, public control. San Francisco's story showcases the values of public power: community focus, reliability, accountability, and a commitment to sustainability. By embracing these values, San Francisco is not only securing its energy future but also setting an inspiring example for municipalities across the United States.

Public power is more than a concept; it's a testament to the power of local communities coming together to shape their energy destiny. And as the City looks to the future, one thing is certain: San Francisco is ready for full public power now. 

For more information about San Francisco's public power initiative, visit