Local Energy and Corporate Power (Part 3)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

In my last article about PG&E furiously trying to stop counties from developing their own energy sources, the ending thought was about how the recent Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations to put unlimited funds into the political process will affect us:

Speculation has been raging over whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent junking of federal campaign spending limits on corporations will be very bad for democracy, or not so bad. With this huge ballot campaign launched by our biggest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, we can say this: It’s going to be worse than you can possibly imagine.

And not only that… PG&E Corp, the parent company, of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. utility is raising the stakes again.

David R. Baker, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, February 20, 2010

that would limit the ability of cities and counties to go into the public power business, the company reported Friday. PG&E has supplied all of the proposition campaign’s funding so far, totaling $6.5 million. On Friday, PG&E took the unusual step of telling its investors that funding for the campaign would affect the company’s 2010 profits, lowering them by 6 to 9 cents per share.

Remember, this is the PG&E holding company that couldn’t be responsible when the utility went bankrupt:

With little generating capacity of its own, and unable to sell electricity to consumers for more than it could buy it on the open market, PG&E was forced to enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy April 6, 2001. The State of California bailed out the utility, the cost of which worsened an already bad state budget situation. PG&E emerged from bankruptcy in April 2004, after distributing $10.2 billion to hundreds of creditors. PG&E’s 4.8 million electricity customers are expected to pay an average $1,300 to $1,700 each in above-market prices through 2012.

And you can bet that soon we will see a rate increase up before the CPUC to pay for the new media expenses. They would much rather have us pay for this media blitz.

Once again, Proposition 16, on the June 8 ballot, would force any local governments that want to establish electrical service to win the approval of two-thirds of their voters first, rather than just giving consumers a choice. They just hate that nasty competition… 25-40 million dollars worth of hate.

The initiative would also affect local governments trying to enter the power business through a new system called community choice aggregation (CCA). Under community choice, local authorities buy electricity on behalf of their residents and set their own electricity rates, while traditional utilities continue to own and operate the power grid. The initiative would also limit the ability of municipal utilities – such as those in Alameda, Palo Alto and Sacramento to expand service to new customers.

This would include Ukiah, I assume.

Although state law requires utilities to cooperate with community choice agencies, PG&E threatened not to deliver electricity to the new Marin Energy Authority. On Wednesday, however, PG&E executives signed an agreement with the authority to deliver power. The authority plans to begin service in May. “We are pleased that they are now complying with the law,” said Dawn Weisz, the authority’s interim director.

It seems to me that as Ukiah and the County are negotiating tax sharing they could also negotiate about making our utilities local, where Mendocino County can control its own energy, as does Ukiah. This would keep a lot of money circulating in the County. How about we keep the profit for our local economy instead of the PG&E Corporation and use it to solarize our county?

Let me repeat: Proposition 16 is in many ways the most important ballot initiative. It is important because of what it represents: more corporate takeover of the political process.  We cannot let this happen. Spread the word.