PG&E Power Grab

Imagine if you will that a large company, let’s call them Pacific Goats and Elephants,  wrote a Proposition that basically made a Constitutional Amendment stating, “Pacific Goats and Elephants shall be given a monopoly on the sale and distribution of Goats and Elephants and any public entity wishing to do so can only do so by 2/3rds vote of its jurisdiction” Let’s supposed they were the sole financier of the organizers that supported this proposition, suppose they spent, let’s say $6.5 million, or so.  Let’s just say, basically that PG&E used their financial clout to stifle competition, handcuff local governments and other public entities and subverted the proposition system to achieve their corporate goals.

Crazy, right?

Maybe just barely so.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E, not to be confused with former Enron entity PGE – Portland General Electric) is supporting California Proposition 16 to create a virtual stranglehold on its monopoly.  In a blatant and transparent thumbing of its nose at the political process, this corporate giant is attempting to use the proposition system to cement its own power and maintain its monopoly.

Crossposted at DailyKos

PG&E has written and managed to get on the ballot Proposition 16, Two-Thirds Requirement for Local Public Electricity Providers Act, a Constitutional Amendment that thwarts ANY attempts at public power.  Officially the bill is sponsored by “Californians to Protect Our Right to Vote”, which labels itself as “A Coalition Of Taxpayers, Environmentalists, Renewable Energy, Business And Labor”. A coalition of one, however, PG&E is the sole donor and they have donated to the tune of $6.5 million.

PG&E is running scared these days thanks to the County of San Francisco and the communities and County of Marin County to the north of San Francisco, who are attempting to form CCAs, or Community Choice Aggregation Projects that would allow them to buy power for their citizens, frequently wanting to buy greener power than PG&E.  PG&E supported the state law that allows communities to form CCAs, but since then has done everything in their power to stop them.  This ballot proposition is just the most blatant attempt to make it next to impossible.  It is so egregious that the state’s other two major electric utilities, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric are noticeably NOT on board.  PG&E has gotten its hand repeatedly smacked by the California Public Utilities Commission for not cooperating with the CCAs.  That partially explains the initiative.  They aren’t getting their way so they are trying to buy their way into the Constitution.

This is troubling on so many levels that if it wasn’t a large, multi-million dollar corporation behind it you might laugh.  The use of the California Proposition to advance a Corporate power grab is disgusting.  If anything it highlights the problem with the system.  And while this is not a direct result of the Citizen’s case, it is emblematic of the kind of problems it can bring about.

It isn’t just abuse of the system that is problematic, but the actual proposition itself, tying the hands of local officials to make decisions for its citizens and doing it through a Constitutional Amendment.

The whole thing reeks.  Luckily it reeks so badly and is so transparent that it is already getting smacked down.

Nine California state senators sent a letter to PG&E President Peter Darbee in which they said that they believe Proposition 16 is “misguided as a matter of public policy.” The letter was signed by senators Darrell Steinberg, Mark Leno, Jenny Oropeza, Lois Wolk, Christine Kehoe, Alan Lowenthal, Gilbert Cedillo and Dean Florez.

The Palo Alto City Council voted by 9-0 in early February to pass a resolution against Proposition 16. The city is worried that if Proposition 16 passes, it might make it harder for the city to buy new non-renewable production or transmission facilities outside its borders

The Sacramento Bee editorialized saying “It is unusual for The Bee to come out against a ballot measure before the campaign has really started. The PG&E initiative deserves special attention. It’s that bad.”

Micahel Hiltzik of Los Angeles Times has been on this

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.

As with many important trends in American society, California was there first, and we have the answer. Thanks to a nakedly cynical $6.5-million 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.

Elisabeth Brinton, director of communications for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, a public utility, in an article in the Sacramento News and Review:

• The initiative reduces the ability of people to choose between private and public utility companies. “It really goes to the heart of the right of people to have choices, that’s the intent of this measure. It’s horrendous.”

• Holding local elections where people vote on whether to have a private or public utility company would be expensive: “The cost of doing these elections, the whole process is really extraordinary.

And to make it worse, public entities cannot spend money to combat this egregious act of corporate politics.

Proposition 16 is not the sexiest sounding Prop out there, but in many ways it is the most important.  It is important because of what it represents, a corporate takeover of the political process.  This cannot happen.