Their neighborhood - Page 2

PG&E and its proxies fight public power, here and in the San Joaquin Valley

While PG&E is opposing peakers here, it has plans under way to build at least two farther south, near communities it is also battling.

The San Joaquin Valley Power Authority has filed a formal complaint against PG&E with the California Public Utilities Commission regarding how the utility is conducting itself as the community moves forward with a plan for public power.

The SJVPA is a group of 11 cities and two counties, representing about 300,000 citizens, that has filed a plan with the CPUC to purchase its power through a CCA plan. Assembly Bill 117, written by Sen. Carole Migden when she was in the State Assembly and made law in 2004, allows communities to act as their own wholesale power customers and purchase electricity for residents.

San Francisco, Marin, Berkeley, Oakland, and Emeryville are working on CCA plans, but the SJVPA is the furthest along. With CCA, power is still transmitted by utility companies, but residents pay their electricity bills to the city. The SJVPA plans to build its own 500 MW power plant — which PG&E also opposes, claiming studies show it isn't necessary — and has issued a request for proposals from interested companies for 400 MW of renewable energy. It estimates citizens would save about 5 percent with CCA.

But representatives of PG&E have been attending city council meetings in the area and even holding their own informational workshops at which they refute elements of the CCA plan.

In a lengthy memo sent to a Hanford City Council member and very similar in tone and content to one distributed to San Francisco nonprofit organizations a couple of months ago, PG&E offers misleading claims such as "Over 30 percent of PG&E's supply comes from a diverse portfolio of renewable energy ... about 20 percent comes from PG&E's large hydro system, and approximately 12 percent comes from smaller renewable generation sources."

But according to state law, a large hydro system does not qualify as a renewable energy source — a rule the utility doesn't apply to itself but is quick to point out a paragraph later when it attacks the CCA plan for renewable energy.

The SJVPA complaint details several examples of PG&E spokespeople cautioning against the plan in local media and at public meetings. CEO Peter Darbee even penned an editorial for the Fresno Bee in which he wrote, "The fundamental problem with the program is that the numbers don't add up," a statement he attempted to clarify with unsourced data showing that rates will go up even if the CCA plan says they won't. Darbee went on to say that PG&E is just looking out for the best interests of the people.

The Fresno City Council recently voted 4–<\d>3 not to join the SJVPA, a close vote that "was based in large part on PG&E raising questions," said David Orth, the general manager of the Kings River Conservation District, which is overseeing the implementation of the CCA plan. "That is their intent, frankly — to clutter the discussion and decision-making field with a lot of uncertainties and threats of complexity."

Fresno would have been the largest consumer of power in the coalition, using 45 percent of its electricity.

Orth said obfuscation has been the utility's tool, coupled with reassurances that power "is too difficult for you to understand, so accept the status quo."

He said PG&E hasn't been entirely factual with its advice and cited a specific example in which PG&E claimed that if a community opted out of CCA after joining, it could be liable for as much as $11 million. "It was a fabricated number, and it was a fabricated scenario, but it lead certain council members to believe there was a risk we weren't explaining," Orth said.

Lawyers representing the SJVPA say the utility is using ratepayer funds for its anti-CCA marketing, and that's a violation of the CPUC's rules.