AB 117 states clearly that utilities should cooperate fully with municipalities enacting CCA plans. In a December 2005 decision seeking to clarify how CCAs will be implemented, the CPUC wrote, "There is little if any benefit from permitting a battle for market share between CCAs and utilities. Of course, we expect utilities to answer questions about their own rates and services and the process by which utilities will cut-over customers to the CCA. However, if they provide [sic] affirmatively contact customers in efforts to retain them or otherwise engage in actively marketing services, they should conduct those activities at shareholder expense. We do not believe utility ratepayers should be forced to support such marketing."
"SJVPA is informed and believes and thereon alleges that these marketing and related activities were undertaken at PG&E's ratepayer expense to compete against SJVPA," the authority's lawyers wrote in the complaint to the CPUC.
Even if PG&E is drawing from the proper budget for the marketing, the appearance that it isn't needs to be addressed, and the SJVPA complaint further calls on the CPUC to clarify its rules on what utilities can and can't do. Local customer representatives, usually salaried by ratepayer funds, are telling folks to stick with PG&E, and that's a betrayal of trust. "You have someone who's worked with a customer for years and years and years saying, 'Don't support CCA,'<\!q>" Orth said.
PG&E, which has disputed the allegations in the SJVPA complaint, did not return our calls seeking comment. The two parties are currently in mediation, and SJVPA attorney Scott Blaising said the utility has yet to provide solid evidence that ratepayer money isn't footing the bill for the anti-CCA marketing. Southern California Edison Co., which provides about a quarter of the SJVPA's current power, has not been as contentious as PG&E, Orth said.
"Theoretically, [anti-CCA marketing] should be covered by shareholders," said Bill Marcus, an energy consultant who works with the Utility Reform Network. "Realistically, a bunch of it leaks into ratepayer accounts."
He pointed out that PG&E's budget allocation for local public affairs has stood at 22 percent over the course of several general rate cases, despite clear peaks in marketing for certain campaigns.
Some San Franciscans will be closely watching what happens next as a sign of things to come as this city moves forward with its CCA plan. As Mirkarimi told us, "What San Joaquin is experiencing is likely a prelude to what San Francisco will be confronting as it pertains to PG&E's desire to deny CCA and San Francisco's pursuit of energy independence."
Migden, who wrote the CCA law, said, "PG&E's alleged actions controvert the letter and the spirit of the bill. The utility and the SFPUC should take heed, because green public power is the people's passion."<\!s>*