Tag Archives: public power

PG&E Earned This

If ever any corporation earned regulatory legislation, PG&E did so when they spent nearly $50 million of ratepayer funds to try to pass a constitutional amendment to guarantee the monopoly.  And Mark Leno is making it happen.

Senator Mark Leno today announced legislation that would prevent Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) from using ratepayer funds to finance future political campaigns. The bill allows the corporation to continue participating in political campaigns, but stipulates that money derived from ratepayers cannot be used for political or public affairs expenditures.

Senator Leno’s bill requires PG&E to report its annual political and public affairs spending to the California Public Utilities Commission. The PUC will ensure that all political and public affairs spending identified in this report did not derive from ratepayer funds.

This is already the rule for municipal utitilies.  And, frankly, if PG&E wants to guarantee its monopoly so much, they should be totally fine with competing on a level playing field.

What do you think the odds of that are?

Despite Spending $46 Million, California Rejects PG&E

I’ve been a political campaign junkie for years.  And the frustrating part about this job is that after going to Election Night parties, I have to go home and write about it for readers to view the next morning.  So if a particular race takes the whole night to resolve, I could be up very late.  But I had no problem sticking around the “No on 16” campaign party last night until 1:00 a.m. – monitoring the results with Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, State Senator Mark Leno and our good friends at TURN.  Because last night’s defeat of Prop 16 was one of the most historic victories in California history.  Outspent over 1,000-to-one by a monster utility company, consumer advocates defeated by a 52-47 margin an odious measure that would have cemented PG&E’s monopoly. To call this a David & Goliath victory does not give it justice.  As my friend Robert Cruickshank wrote at Calitics, it’s like “an ant taking down an elephant.”  Oh, and Prop 17 failed too.

PG&E is desperate to stop community choice aggregation – where local governments can purchase energy to offer their constituents a “public option” to the company’s monopoly.  Proposition 16 would have required a two-thirds vote of the electorate before cities can do community choice aggregation, and cynically dubbed it the Taxpayer’s Right to Vote.

Never mind that taxpayers already have the right to vote out their elected officials – if they don’t support community choice aggregation.  Never mind that ratepayers were not given the chance on voting for PG&E as their energy provider.  Public power is not even one of my top “issues,” but I was outraged that PG&E would try something like Prop 16.

PG&E shattered campaign spending records with $46 million to pass Prop 16 – ratepayer money that we give them every month when we pay our energy bills.  The only organized opposition was TURN (the Utility Reform Network), who only raised $90,000.  Bloggers got creative by making “No on 16” videos, and a hilarious Twitter feed.  But the campaign often seemed like a rag-tag army tilting at the windmills.

When I arrived at the “No on 16” party at Otis Lounge around 9:30 p.m., the results were looking bad.  We were down by about three points, but the night was still young.  Having watched statewide campaigns for years, I knew it would ultimately come down to Los Angeles County – so I quickly went online to check how we were doing down there.

Not good.  The early absentees had Prop 16 winning L.A. County by 13 points, far worse than where we were statewide.  If this kept on during the night, it was going to be painful.  The public power entity in Los Angeles had just raised rates, and folks at the party said it may be why Prop 16 was doing so well.  Small comfort for the largest county in the state.

Mark Toney of TURN was saying we should be proud that we held PG&E to such a close margin, after having been outspent nearly 1,000-to-one – but I cringed when I heard that.  We were losing.  Sure, we were doing pretty well in Northern California – where people know and hate PG&E, but we were getting creamed down south.  Where the votes are.

But as the night wore on, some folks pointed out how well we were doing in counties like Fresno, Madera, and Mariposa.  These are conservative places in the Central Valley, but PG&E had alienated these customers with “smart meters.”  I checked how we were doing in San Benito County – which political junkies often say is the bellwether of California state politics.  We were slightly ahead in San Benito County, but only by about 50 votes.

And the L.A. County numbers were trickling in – slowly, but surely.  We were still losing there, but the margin was noticeably trending in our favor.  By now, everyone at the party was huddled around a small number of laptops – while I double-checked the Secretary of State’s website with what individual counties were saying.  Places like San Diego and Orange County were coming in where we were behind, but we were not losing ground.

Pretty soon, our three-point loss became a one-point lead – and there was a palpable sense in the air that we could win it.  I wasn’t convinced yet – scouring the L.A. County numbers to see if this positive trend in our favor was not going to start reversing itself.

When 58% of L.A. County had been counted, we were ahead there.  I got up, and boldly shouted that we had won.  It reminded me of the scene in Milk, when Jim Rivaldo tells Harvey Milk not to worry about the Briggs Initiative.  L.A. County had just come in, and we were going to win.  By now, I was sure that we had slain the Prop 16 dragon.

During that whole time, Proposition 17 – Mercury Insurance’s scam to rip off consumers – had been ahead by a wider margin than Prop 16.  As we were all fixated on the Prop 16 results, it became apparent that Prop 17 results were following similar trends.  By the end of the evening, Prop 17 had likewise had the same fate – it also lost by about five points.

As of 4:00 this morning, Prop 16 is losing 47-53 – with 91.6% of all precincts reporting.  Not only is this a stunning rebuke of PG&E, but it is a strong mandate for public power.  Californians want a choice in the energy marketplace, and are ready for a “public option” that provides them with competitive rates and renewable energy sources.

And PG&E will deserve every share of anger, rebuke and humiliation coming at it.

Paul Hogarth is the Managing Editor of Beyond Chron, San Francisco’s Alternative Online Daily, where this piece was first published.

Speaker Pelosi Opposes Prop 16

Speaker Pelosi doesn’t wade into every one of our ballot fights, but when the issue is contentious enough, and/or egregious enough, she’ll say something. PG&E’s $46 Million investment in Prop 16 is getting closer to passing. How could it not with that much spending. I don’t even regularly watch TV and I’ve caught a few of the rather irritating and deceptive ads.  This is egregious enough.

And so today, Speaker Pelosi weighed in to the fight on Prop 16 and coming out strongly in opposition to PG&E’s Monopoly Protection Scheme. On the steps of City Hall, her chief of staff appeared at a press conference at City Hall to make the Speaker’s position clear.

How egregious you might ask is Prop 16? Well, well over 60 newspapers have eviscerated the measure, with but one or two in support.  Over 60 cities have announced official opposition to the measure.

But the fact is that PG&E is going all out for the win here.

Prop 16 is the ballot initiative that would limit the ability of cities and counties to go into the public power business. San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkirimi says if the measure passes, it would encourage other corporations to take their issues straight to the voters.

“It is obvious that if PG&E prevails, they will be the first corporation to embed themselves into our state constitution,” he said. (ABC7)

We need turnout. PG&E has aligned themselves with the Republicans, and this is going to be a GOP friendly election.  Democrats must turn out or it is very possible that PG&E’s money may work. Please, let your friends, family and random people on the street know the importance of turning out on Tuesday.  We must beat this thing.

Prop 16 Gets Eviscerated Again

Prop 16 has had more negative editorial board reviews than Ishtar, yet, PG&E is still pumping money into this dud. Whether will be worth PG&E’s money is a question that can only be answered by the voters of California.

Whether it is good policy is a question with an objective answer: NO.  This is the answer from good government groups, editorial boards, progressive organizations, and non-partisan groups.  It is a policy that’s great for PG&E, terrible for the state and its ratepayers.  Today the San Jose Mercury News threw down on PG&E’s hidden agenda scheme:

Surely you’ve heard the ads, wedged between Steve Poizner’s cries of “Liberal!” and Meg Whitman’s attempts to sound tough.

“And we don’t even have the right to vote on it!” whine the indignant actors, as if they’re victims of an evil government conspiracy.

Don’t be fooled. These ads, like the rest of PG&E’s estimated $45 million campaign to pass Proposition 16, are full of lies. PG&E calls the measure the Taxpayers’ Right to Vote Act, but it’s really the PG&E Monopoly Protection Act. So we can’t resist another reminder to vote no. …

One thing that’s clear about PG&E’s campaign is where it got the $45 million for all those ads. From you. Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a PG&E-free city like Santa Clara. Exercise your right to vote on Proposition 16: Say no. Tell PG&E to stop spending your money to thwart your best interests – and to stop lying. (SJ Merc)

It’s really not a big ask, even from a corporation like PG&E: don’t lie to the voters of California.  However, it’s too much to ask of PG&E these days They’re spending $45 million to get Prop 16 passed, but it’s still sinking in the polls. There won’t be any big ad buys for No on 16, just the small matter of being right.

It is my sincere hope that the voters of California will see beyond PG&E’s lies and smack them on the head for over-reaching by spending ratepayer money on anti-consumer initiatives.

Decoding Prop 16

PG&E is calling its monopoly protection measure the “Taxpayer’s Right to Vote” Act.  Which is kind of like calling Arnold a “liberal” or even a moderate.  It just couldn’t be further from the truth.

But, Prop 16 is inspiring some good ol’ fashioned grassroots activism, and with today’s tools, the cost of producing some great videos makes them accessible to all.  I’ll let the video do the explaining:

Prop 16 Films

We mentioned this yesterday in the open thread, but since the folks at NoProp16films.org have gone full out and made a whole series of HD videos, I think it is worth its own post.

You can check out the whole series of them, but this is one of my favorites at the site.  The open thread has a good summary video, and over the flip you’ll find a video in Spanish.

PG&E & PROP 16* from No on Prop16 Films on Vimeo.

PG&E Lies Again

There are a lot of bad actors in California government right now. There are special interests with special interests.  Yet if you had to look for a list of companies that are exploiting the state with deceptive tactics, you would be hard pressed to top PG&E.  

And the latest rebuke isn’t even about Prop 16, their deceptive monopoly preservation proposition.  Instead, it is about Marin County’s community choice aggregation (CCA) program, where PG&E is fighting to keep customers on their roles.  And lying to do it.

California utility regulators Monday warned Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to stop using telephone and direct-mail tactics that could derail competition from the state’s first nonprofit group to offer electric service.

The warning letter from the California Public Utilities Commission came in the midst of PG&E’s $35-million campaign to pass Proposition 16, a statewide initiative on the June 8 ballot aimed at making it harder for local governments and citizens to form nonprofits to provide electricity. … (The PUC) said PG&E’s mailers to customers were “misleading” and the utility “must refrain from sending any mailers of this nature in the future.”(LA Times)

At this point, if there is a rule, PG&E will do its best to go as far as possible to violate it. If they make a promise, as they did with honoring the will of the people to create CCAs, is it worth anything any more?

We simply can’t trust PG&E with a monopoly on power anymore.

PG&E’s Prop 16 Ads Hits the Trifecta: Lies, Half-Truths and Deception

PG&E, the Proposition 16 backers, leave a lot of information out of their slick new TV ad. Let’s go through it (transcript over the flip.

Let’s go over it, claim by claim. First, read the fine print


Of course, it only flashes on the screen for 4 seconds, so you can’t really read it in the ad. But if you could read it, you wouldn’t even know that 100%, not “major,” funding comes from PG&E. Every penny comes from the electrical utility, who has a lot to gain in their attempt to actually limit the people’s choice, and even limit their voting. By the way, PG&E ins’t a coalition of anything, especially labor. No labor organization that I know of supports this measure.

“But in the end, it’s really government run electric service.”

This is technically true, but they leave a few convenient facts out. Government or municipal electric service is accountable to the voters through board elections and consumer choice.  PG&E is beholden to its management and stockholders to make them money. Operators at public power agencies cannot be paid multi-million dollar corporate bonuses like the $10 million a year compensation package PG&E’s CEO, Peter Darbee is getting. (That’s paid for with ratepayer funds.)

Furthermore, government or municipal electric utilities cannot spend one dime of your ratepayer money for a political campaign like Prop. 16.  But PG&E, a for-profit utility, has contributed $25 million in ratepayer funds to pass Prop. 16 which will limit consumer choice and give PG&E a virtual monopoly.

Under current law, local government can spend unlimited public funds to go into the electricity business, and we don’t even have the right to vote on it.

This is absurd. Local governments are made up of elected officials – County Supervisors, Mayors and City Council members. They and their actions are highly accountable to voters. It’s the way we decide every other spending decision, apparently PG&E wants special privileges. Anyway, local public agencies cannot put taxpayer resources at risk without a vote of the people under existing law.

Requires voter approval before local governments can spend public funds to take over electric service.

Of course, what it doesn’t mention is that it isn’t just a simple up and down vote. Proposition 16 requires that two-thirds of the electorate has to approve a new municipal power system – giving PG&E a clearly unfair advantage. This is a rarely achieved supermajority that a deep-pocketed for-profit business like PG&E will use to ensure consumers have no choice in power providers.

Whether government run electricity is a good idea or not, voters should have the final say, because we’re paying the bills.

Today, voters have NO say in the high rates and poor service that PG&E provides. Prop. 16 locks that in. Virtually every municipal or government run power system in California charge lower rates than PG&E, some by 25% or more.


Image- power lines

Woman narrating: “It goes by different names”

Text Images on the screen: “public power” “local public electricity providers” “community choice aggregation”

Women narrating: “But in the end, it’s really government run electric service.”

Women on screen: “under current law, local government can spend unlimited public funds to go into the electricity business, and we don’t even have the right to vote on it.”

Image and spoken by women: “Proposition 16, The Taxpayers Right to Vote Act”

Highlighted text on screen read by women: “Requires voter approval before local governments can spend public funds to take over electric service.”

Woman back on screen: Whether government run electricity is a good idea or not, voters should have the final say, because we’re paying the bills. Vote Yes on Proposition 16, the taxpayers right to vote act.”

What PG&E Won’t Tell You

In a conference call a while back, PG&E CEO Peter Darbee accidentally let slip the truth about his “taxpayer’s right to vote” act. Hardy-har.  Basically, this initiative isn’t intended to really give anybody the vote, instead, it is intended to stop counties from even trying this sort of thing. Keep in mind, these words are direct from the mouth of Darbee:

And the idea was to diminish, you know, rather than year after year different communities coming in as this or that and putting this up for vote and us having to spend millions and millions of shareholder dollars to defend it repeatedly, we thought that this was a way that we could sort of diminish that level unless there was a very strong, you know, mandate from voters that this was what they wanted to do. (John Geesman)

Here’s the thing, very rarely do you get 2/3 of people to agree on anything. So PG&E is banking on counties never even bringing this stuff up for a vote, in all intents and purposes, killing community choice aggregation (CCA) in California forever.

So, PG&E, why don’t we just call this what it is: Kill CCA Forever Act. That’s what you want, isn’t it? That’s why you’ve been hounding Marin and San Francisco counties as they have been preparing to enter a CCA program?

Look, the amount of money required to set up a CCA is a relatively small amount of money compared with other expenditures at the county level. I don’t have exact figures, because there hasn’t been a good case study for CCA. PG&E tries to kill them before they get out of the planning stages.  Why require a vote on this one small issue when elected leaders can spend far more on other, costlier programs?

The answer is clear, PG&E doesn’t like it because it messes with their bottom line.  Despite the fact that they claimed that they would play nice with CCAs when they screwed up the power during the brownouts, they’ve continued to act in bad faith. (As an aside, the public power operators fared far better in terms of brownouts than PG&E and other private power companies)

This has nothing to do with anybody’s right to vote. If we wanted to vote on everything we could move to Athens, circa 2500 years ago. But, California is too big for votes on every issue, and PG&E with its big corporate accounts overflowing with ratepayer money uses every last penny hiring fancy consultants to go around spreading lies about “how this is just about letting people vote.” They know it is a bunch of bullshit, and Darbee acknowledges that much.

You think the PG&E spokespeople will be quoting Darbee about how he intends there to be less voting? Yeah, I’m not holding my breath.

PG&E Strike Force

Yesterday, the PUC heard a debate about Prop 16, PG&E’s attempt to buy itself a brand new supermajority law. The PUC has, in the past, taken positions on initiatives in areas that it regulates.  It should join every editorial board that has looked at the measure and say NO! to PG&E’s power-play.

But, today there was some bigger news.  A group of municipalities sued to take Prop 16 off the ballot:

The City and County of San Francisco today joined with public entities from throughout California in a lawsuit to strike the controversial PG&E-funded initiative constitutional amendment, Proposition 16, from the June 8, 2010 statewide ballot for being wholly false and misleading, and for concealing its true nature and purpose from voters. Dubiously self-entitled the “Taxpayers Right to Vote Act” by its proponents, despite having no bearing on taxation or government spending, the California Attorney General recently re-entitled the measure, “New Two-Thirds Vote Requirement for Local Public Electricity Providers.” The proposed amendment would impose a new super-majority vote threshold before public entities in California would be allowed to pursue virtually any energy services programs intended to benefit ratepayers or the environment.

*** **** ***

“Despite what its proponents would have us believe, Prop 16 doesn’t help taxpayers and doesn’t empower voters-in fact, it does the exact opposite,” said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera. “Enabling a one-third minority to hold the will of the majority hostage has been a disaster for our state budget process in Sacramento. Now, Prop 16 would impose that recipe for deadlock on California’s energy future. State law enables courts to remove initiatives that misrepresent and conceal their true nature and purpose. If our elections laws are to have meaning, the court should strike this deceptive amendment from the ballot.” (Press Release)

Of course, the pro-Prop 16 Consultant Strike Force (paid out of PG&E’s ratepayer-funded political slush fund) immediately flew into action. This is from Robin Swanson, a Democratic consultant:

Opponents would rather file lawsuits behind closed doors and use legal maneuvers to try and stop people from voting than talk to the voters of California in the open forum of an election.

Ironically, Proposition 16 was put on the ballot simply to guarantee voters the right to vote before local governments borrow or spend public dollars to take over electric utilities. Particularly in these tough economic times, we need to make sure we can use our vote to hold the politicians accountable.

But, as evidenced from today’s actions, it’s clear that the opponents don’t want voters to have a say on this issue at all.(Press release – Robin Swanson)

To say this is deceptive would be a grand understatement.  Let’s put this in perspective.

  • PG&E plans on spending $35 million on this measure. That is a ton of money for a June primary or any election for a statewide measure.  PG&E isn’t trying to “give voters their choice” they are trying to buy compliance from a duped public being fed propaganda on TV.
  • PG&E is spending ratepayer money on this measure. On the flip side, many of the interest groups that oppose the measure, municipal utilities, are prohibited from spending ratepayers money on a campaign to oppose the measure. Not only is PG&E going to beat up on their opponents, they are going to make sure they are tied up as they do it.
  • The other opponents of Prop 16 are either underfunded public interest groups, such as The Utility Reform Network (TURN) or politicians. This is a classic case of concentrated interests (PG&E) versus diffuse (the public). Thus the spending difference.
  • And finally, PG&E is going to give anybody lectures about voting when they are trying to institute a supermajority requirement? It’s ludicrous on its face.  But, that’s why they are going after the supermajority requirement.  Even a 50% vote of the people is ridiculous after they previously agreed to support communities who wanted to embark upon community choice aggregation.

    In the end, this is just bad policy. It’s why editorial boards across the state are panning this awful measure:

    Pacific Gas and Electric spent $3.5 million to collect more than a million signatures to qualify what it calls the Taxpayers Right to Vote Act for California’s June ballot. The title makes it sound like motherhood and apple pie. It’s just the opposite. If voters approve the scam, it will protect PG&E from dissatisfied customers angry about bad service and high costs. (Fresno Bee, 1/20/2010)

    The point isn’t to protect taxpayers’ rights. It’s to protect the profits of a monopoly utility – both from ambitious clean-power schemes in San Francisco and from modest annexations in Redding. This is one measure where voters will need to look past the catchy slogan and see who really stands to benefit.(The Redding Record Searchlight 1/16/2010)

    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.(Sacramento Bee, 1/192010)

    Californians must stand up to this effort to pass a monopolistic measure with our own money.