Don't let PG&E kill CCA

We're on to the power giant's sneaky tricks

EDITORIAL For decades, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has been a deceptive and corrupting influence in San Francisco politics, time and again subverting efforts to create a public power system that would save city ratepayers tens of millions of dollars annually, comply with the federal Raker Act public power mandate, and create a greener power portfolio.

PG&E is prohibited by state law from interfering with community choice aggregation, an eminently worthy project that will allow San Francisco to develop sustainable energy projects and to buy and distribute power on behalf of residents. So, to circumvent the law, PG&E works quietly and aggressively through the Chamber of Commerce, the mainstream media, and community groups. It also spreads a blizzard of greenwashing ads around the cityscape.

The Guardian obtained a memo that PG&E secretly distributed to various community groups around town a few weeks ago, calling the CCA plan flawed and the city unfit to enter the power business. As Amanda Witherell reported on our Politics blog, Committee on Jobs director Nathan Nayman then plagiarized whole chunks of the PG&E missive for a May 23 guest editorial that he wrote for the San Francisco Examiner (a PG&E ad nestled close to his op-ed on the Examiner's Web site).

Then the Chamber of Commerce got into the act, purporting to conduct a poll of 111 business executives, most of whom said — surprise, surprise — that they would rather just keep doing business with PG&E. We got a copy of the poll, and it showed that only l,500 of the city's 50,000 or so businesses were canvassed, and less than 10 per cent bothered to respond. The company that conducted the poll, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, lists PG&E as a client on its Web page but does not list the chamber.

Despite the obvious bias of this survey and the chamber's clear intention to do PG&E's bidding, both the Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle dutifully reported the results but didn't include any comment from public power people. How close was the coordination between PG&E and the chamber? When the Chronicle called PG&E for comment, the reporter wrote, a chamber spokesperson called back on PG&E's behalf. Neat. And the chamber's James Lazarus testified on the poll results at the Board of Supervisors' Budget and Finance Committee CCA hearing June 6.

To its credit, the committee saw through the charade and voted unanimously to move CCA forward. The full board was scheduled to consider approving CCA on June 12 after our press time, and approval appeared likely. CCA is an important first step toward public power, consumer choice, and an energy policy that is sustainable and independent. Let's put CCA on the fast track and keep exposing PG&E's sneaky maneuvers and the people and businesses that promote them. *