Michael Laybourn: PG&E & Prop 16, Not Quite The Last Word…


On election night I went to bed furious. PG&E and their arrogant, reckless campaign to change the California Constitution was ahead in votes. That 50 million dollars worth of lies must have done it, I thought, and locked in a no competition monopoly.

But when I woke up and checked the voting, the vote had reversed with NO on 16 ahead. Talk about a personal mental turnaround. But it was close, too close. 1,869,805 voted for it for a 47.7% yes vote and 52.3% voted against it, most of them, it turned out, PG&E customers.

At stake was, I believe, California’s renewable energy future. The collapse of PG&E’s attempt to buy a monopoly in California gives Californians time to consider local power. Supervisors and City councils can now take some time to educate local residents about the value of community-controlled energy. Citizens can write letters comparing the ways to purchase energy.

Looking back, it was unlimited political spending up against a small group who had no way of raising that kind of money and up against cities that manage or want to manage their own utilities, but can’t, by law, spend money on the necessary advertising to fight PG&E’s attempt to change our constitution.

The bully says we can spend them into oblivion. This doesn’t happen with community controlled energy. But it is a description of PG&E in California. PG&E wanted to stop municipal purchasing before its customers acquired a taste for lower electric rates, because most of these utilities have lower rates.

“Peter Darbee, PG&E CEO, who earned $10.6 million dollars last year, told company shareholders that the goal of Proposition 16 is to defeat local power choice “once and for all,” instead of having to continually fend off the specter of customer defection.

“Darbee speculated that California voters would be receptive to Proposition 16 if the initiative’s campaign exploited the current anti-government anger over the economy and state budget deficit.” – Dan Aiello, California Progress Report. California media was inundated with radio, TV ads and flyers telling Californians to save themselves from government. And almost 2 million people believed those slick Yes on Prop 16 fliers & TV ads telling us the initiative was a voter safeguard against local governments wanting to spend unlimited amounts to get into the energy business.

It wasn’t about your right to vote. Prop 16 took away a community’s right to choose to buy their own power source by imposing the 2/3 vote requirement. Ironically, it doesn’t take a 2/3 majority to change the California constitution with this proposition. PG&E’s CEO didn’t ask ratepayers for approval before spending over 50 million dollars of ratepayer dollars to get rid of its competition.

I’ll never forget hearing that recording of an Enron executive laughing over how he snagged all that little old grandmother’s life savings. I was outraged then and I’m outraged now at the power and the insolence of these corporations that take our money in subsidies and bailouts using tax dollars, then buy politicians and influence elections to change the laws so that the law serves them instead of the people who pay the taxes. PG&E shows the same condescension.

David beat Goliath once more. And you can bet that PG&E will try to raise their rates to pay for this boondoggle although it will be couched in terms we won’t recognize.

What to do:
Study the rate increases for PG&E that they ask for and write the CPUC to not allow the any rate increases.
Shareholders of PG&E should call for Darbee’s resignation. $50,000,000 could have bought a lot of alternative energy and made the company more competitive.

Work in your community to set up a community power authority to choose to buy its own power. It will be cheaper energy and greener energy.

Let’s localise our power.