PG&E’s laughable Prop 16: Who needs friends when you’ve got $35 million?

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PG&E look out for ratepayers? Ha!
Rebecca Bowe

Last month, when the Guardian sent an intern to cover a debate between Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spokesperson David Townsend and California Sen. Mark Leno, the reporter was ejected from the event at Townsend’s request.

I figured I’d be immune from such nonsense when I ventured to the state capitol yesterday for a joint informational hearing about Proposition 16, the ballot initiative that PG&E has bankrolled for the June ballot for the purpose of extinguishing competition in its service territory. The initiative would establish a two-thirds majority vote before any municipal electricity program could get up and running, and its sole sponsor is PG&E.

But just after I snapped a photo of Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano chuckling sardonically at a PG&E executive who had mistakenly referred to the ballot initiative as “Prop 13,” a guard swooped in and ordered me to stop photographing and turn off my voice recorder.

I shot him a dirty look at first, but then realized that I could wind up meeting the same fate as our unfortunate intern if I didn’t cooperate. He informed me that it’s protocol to provide advance notification before photographing or recording a public meeting at the capitol (despite the fact that the hearing is televised and open to the public). Then he asked for my name and affiliation, and said he would have to ask committee members for permission before he could allow me to do any more recording or photographing. Presumably, the decision would be based on who was asking. He vanished and, a few minutes later, returned to say that the answer was “no.”

Thus, I was reduced to frantically scribbling down notes, which means the exchanges transcribed below aren’t as complete as they could be. (Anyone know of an acupuncturist who can soothe muscle stiffness in the forearm?)

Yesterday’s hearing made it clear that PG&E has little support for the ballot initiative other than its own war chest of funding, and it’s royally pissed off the Legislature besides. PG&E Senior Director Ed Bedwell blushed a bright red hue more than once when he was assailed with statements such as, “Alienating those who are usually in your camp is not a good sign,” an admonishment delivered by Assembly Member Tom Ammiano when pointing out that not even California’s other investor-owned utilities are behind the initiative.

Apparently, not even the Republican members of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee could stand the smell of the PG&E’s bullshit, as every one of them had walked out of the room by the end. Not a single member of either legislative committee had a positive word for the proposition, but Assembly Member Jared Huffman plainly stated his opinion: “I think this is a terrible initiative.”

Nor was there any evidence of the “coalition” supporting Prop 16 that the PG&E-funded public relations firm that orchestrated this campaign claims exists. Every single member of the public who commented voiced strong opposition, and most had traveled there on their own dime.

Even the conservative-leaning Agricultural Energy Consumers Association, which represents 40,000 growers, is against it. “It would have a chilling effect on the farming community,” Michael Boccadoro of the Agricultural Energy Consumers testified. A representative from the California Chamber of Commerce spoke in favor, but local Chambers of Commerce are not unified in their support.

Paul Hauser, of Redding Electric Utility, testified that if customers in his territory --  which has been slammed with high unemployment -- were paying PG&E prices instead of the municipal electricity rates, every single man, woman, and child would have to fork over an extra $440 per year.

The Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation, which is the parent company of the regulated Pacific Gas & Electric Company, has vowed to spend $35 million on Prop 16. Since the corporation derives all of its funding from the company, which is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission and earns its money through customer billing, this means that every PG&E ratepayer is pitching in. Speaking of bills, PG&E rates will increase 30 percent by 2013 if PG&E is granted its requested hikes, according to The Utility Reform Network.

“Maybe it’s time the Legislature took a very hard look at whether that parent corporation needs to exist,” Boccadoro, of the agricultural group, commented. “Maybe it’s time for a vote on rate increases as well.”

One point that came up over and over again during questioning was the fact that instead of proposing changes to legislation, PG&E sought to use the initiative process to get its way, a move that Leno argues is flouting the democratic process. A second point was that its move is inconsistent with a statute that requires utilities to “cooperate fully” with community-choice aggregation programs. Below are some exchanges between members of the Legislature and Bedwell, the PG&E executive.

Leno: Can you describe to us how Prop 16 exemplifies your abiding by the statute of AB 117 in “cooperating fully?”
Bedwell: Can you repeat that?
Leno: (repeats language of statute)
Bedwell: … “I don’t see how that’s necessarily inconsistent. The cooperation aspect is in the implementation…”
(Leno takes issue with this, saying that they could have proposed that such language be included in the bill at the time it was being drafted. He points out that Prop 16 would present a “hurdle” to municipal power programs, and asks Bedwell if he agrees.)
Bedwell: Says he thinks it would create “a high bar.”
Leno: “A high bar. How is a high bar in any way consistent with ‘cooperate fully?’”
Bedwell: … “I don’t see it’s a matter of cooperation or lack of cooperation. …”

Bedwell: “We value our customers. I think you know through the last six or seven years in San Francisco, you know that we’re very committed to retaining our customers.”
Leno: (Explains that he is a PG&E customer in San Francisco, and a Sacramento Municipal Utility District [SMUD] customer in Sacramento.) “I pay PG&E 25 percent more, and I get more green power here in Sacramento. [In PG&E’s San Francisco territory] my business suffers regularly from blackouts. I’ve never had a blackout here in Sacramento.”

Comments

Prop 16 would mandate that any local community who wants to expand or upgrade their public utilities, or implement green technologies such as solar or wind, has to hold a local election and must get a 2/3 majority before moving ahead with the project. Also, say you build a house just outside of the public utilities supply area, and you would like them to be your provider, under this loosely worded initiative, just to get hooked up would have go before a community vote and get a 2/3 majority.

Here's the rub. Many municipalities in California have been doing just fine running their own public utilities. Most publicly run utilities, though cheaper than PG&E, run more efficiently, actually run at a profit, and put more cash into the localities purse, keeping that money within a community. By putting any future projects to a vote will probably cost the community in terms of time put off on the project/s to hold the special election, money spent on it, and the possibility that the local measure, which the local area may need desperately, may not pass. A 2/3 majority is not an easy majority to obtain. Matter of fact, it is arguably one of the reasons our state is in the mess it is in. To be honest, if Prop 16 mandated a simple 51% majority vote, I would probably not be as opposed as I am. And since this measure is an amendment to our states constitution, it will take another proposition to annul it.

This measure, very deceptively named "Taxpayers Right to Vote", is financed entirely by PG&E, and I have come to the conclusion that it is actually a power grab, an effort by PG&E to further monopolize our state's power grid. Please vote NO on Prop 16. This measure is bad for California, and not needed.

If you would like to learn more, please check out our little grassroots Facebook group in opposition to this initiative.

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=331641877109&ref=mf

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2010 @ 7:31 pm

So Leno thinks that the voter initiative process is "flouting the democratic process"?

That's an interest take on the California Constitution.

I'd never considered that being given the right to vote on something is subverting democracy.

Much better, presumably Leno thinks, to decide such things behind locked doors in smoke-filled rooms. Since of course Leno is in one of those rooms while I, just a poor voter, am locked out even more than a meddlesome SFBG reporter.

Posted by Tom Foolery on Feb. 27, 2010 @ 9:42 am

Judging by the nature of your comment;
Anyone would presume that you are a PG&E executive, major shareholder, or in some other way benefit financially from the passage of proposition 16. "Flouting" the democratic process is when special interests draft, sponsor, and finance entirely, a useless bill (with no merit or use to taxpayers, and that actually costs taxpayers money to put it on the ballot) that would kill or minimize clean green energy, it's innovation and implementation in communities which are sick of paying PG&Es jacked up rates. PG&E ratepayers have had to continually "bail out" the utility (corporation) over the years, because of it's mistakes and poor management. I live in the city of Santa Clara and since we have had our own power company, my rates have actually gone down. I have friends who use about the same amount of energy and live in San Jose; They are paying much higher rates for the same energy usage. It is also noteworthy to mention that everyone should be opposed to PG&Es new Smart Meter program which robs
customers blind. PG&E will continue to devise new schemes to nickle and dime ratepayers, line their pockets, and pay for their continual managment errors and oversights. We are in a recession. Our state is in the worst financial shape in it's history, and yet the PG&E corporation will cost taxpayers money to put this proposition on the ballot. They will spend as much as $35 million (or more) to fund and sponsor this bill; and rest assured they will raise rates to pay for that $35 million whether prop 16 passes or not. They will go before the CPUC and claim or invent more ficticious "legitimate" business expenses. There is currently a lawsuit which seeks to remove prop 16 from the ballot before the election. It should be supported by everyone. Persons, organizations, and businesses with any interest related to the opposition of prop 16 are encouraged to become plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 11, 2010 @ 7:44 am

So according to editorial in Bay Guardian prop 16 is an evil plot by PG&E to take over the world once again. "prop 16--"it actually states that no existing public power agency can add new customers or expand its delivery service without a 2/3 vote." Gee, the California Association of Realtors is against it too. Oh no, where where all the local politicians get their payola from if no new development can take place without a vote? By the way, PG&E is a publc utility. Does anyone know what a public utility is?? The whole idea of a public utility is so we all can use our combined heft to get discounts on electricity, gas, etc. So I hate PG&E as much as anyone else, but this Prop 16 is starting to lok like a pretty damn good idea. What will SF do when their big plan to kick out the black people from hunters point and replace the current housing with high rise luxary condo's has to come from an actual election requiring 2/3 majority vote of the electorate? Read bay guardian page 8 feb 24-march 2.

Posted by Guest The Marxist Republican evil one on Feb. 27, 2010 @ 5:27 pm

Wow! I just got "polled" for 10 minutes on the phone about my opinion on Prop 16. The woman asking the questions tried to sound unbiased, but it was clear that the poll questions were designed to elicit support for Prop 16. (I hope that my continual disapproval of it got properly recorded because I know that the questions had a bias in favor of it.)

"Supporters say" was in front of most of the questions. There was no "Opposers say. . ."

Posted by Guest on Feb. 28, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

10 Reasons Why Prop 16 Is Anti-Democratic:

1. It is created and funded by one multi-billion dollar corporation only to protect its own market share; it is NOT a grassroots effort, and it has no other backers
2. It allows 1/3 of the voters to overrule a majority of the people
3. The 2/3 vote stacks the odds heavily and unfairly in favor of PG&E-- opponents of PG&E will have to get more than twice as many votes
4. Local governments that try to set up alternative energy choices for customers are not allowed to spend a dime on campaigning in an election, while PG&E is free to spend millions--further stacking the odds in favor of PG&E
5. An election is NOT "democratic", when the odds are doubly rigged by absurd and unfair rules
6. It amends the state constitution so it will be difficult to change if people don't like the result
7. The community choice programs that would be "voted" on are actually voluntary, and a vote will add an extra barrier to people's right to choose their electric supplier
8. Without these alternative programs, people have no democratic choice--no one is allowed to "vote" whether PG&E will be their electricity supplier, or "vote" for representatives on PG&E's board of directors.
9. The local energy programs that Prop 16 is attacking are set up and run by your local elected government; Prop 16 allows a minority of voters to take away this local democratic participation from you--- and hand it over to unelected state regulators and corporations.
10. Democracy means increasing public participation and choice; Prop 16 stacks the odds against the majority, and against individual choice--and sets up a high wall to keep the energy business an insiders game.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2010 @ 4:38 am

Why grid lock progress with a 2/3rds approval? Just have a majority (51%) rule.
We will be held hostage by 1/3 of the voters. As we have seen, 2/3rds vote is impossible (Ca. budget passing)

It will be less expensive and easier for PGE to confuse 1/3rd of the voters thus ensure failure to pass any meaningful legislation that benifits the public.

Remember: As PGE has stated - PGE needs to ensure it holds its monopoly

Posted by Guest Archer on Mar. 18, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

I saw the ads for Prop 16 run by PG&E and friends, and I immediately started yelling at the TV. WHO SAYS PG&E knows how to generate electricity better than local municipalities? Palo Alto, for one, has been doing a very fine job for years. I thought this incredibly arrogent. Are citeis & townships run by uneducated dolts who can't figure out how to produce electricity? (Well, ok, a small number may be).
I am a true constitutionalist conservative. I also hold to the general axiom that anything done by and for the public sector should be done as locally as possible to control costs & efficiency. What better example than local municipalities producing their own power? Boy, politics really can create strange bedfollows. I don't expect to agree with Mark Leno again any time soon. But I do this time! Geez, who is saying Prop 16 is grassroots? If there ever was political astroturf!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2010 @ 10:25 am

I have read a lot on this proposition. Everyone as opinions about how awful it is for a private company to take on the government.

But this government is California's state government that has destroyed the state I loved. As far as I Am concerned, anything the pols in Sacramento are against, I will line up to support.

As much as I do not trust corporate America, I trust American politics less.

Government is getting involved in far; far too much that is not government's responsibility. And what does it do well? Not a single thing I can think of.

It has been said that, “a man is known by the company he keeps,” and that “a company is known by the men it keeps.” Government is known for politicians and bureaucrats.

I will vote to support the electric company over a government run utility any day.

Besides, how long will it take for the pols to decide to raise the rates to make up for their ridiculous proclivity to spend, spend, spend.

Posted by Guest JM on May. 04, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

I have read a lot on this proposition. Everyone as opinions about how awful it is for a private company to take on the government.

But this government is California's state government that has destroyed the state I loved. As far as I Am concerned, anything the pols in Sacramento are against, I will line up to support.

As much as I do not trust corporate America, I trust American politics less.

Government is getting involved in far; far too much that is not government's responsibility. And what does it do well? Not a single thing I can think of.

It has been said that, “a man is known by the company he keeps,” and that “a company is known by the men it keeps.” Government is known for politicians and bureaucrats.

I will vote to support the electric company over a government run utility any day.

Besides, how long will it take for the pols to decide to raise the rates to make up for their ridiculous proclivity to spend, spend, spend.

Posted by Guest JM on May. 04, 2010 @ 8:13 pm

I have read a lot on this proposition. Everyone as opinions about how awful it is for a private company to take on the government. Someone even said that the 2/3rds vote requirement has ruined the state! (I think it has saved the state from money grubbing politicians,)

California's state government has destroyed the state I loved. As far as I Am concerned, anything the pols in Sacramento are against, I will line up to support.

So as much as I do not trust corporate America, I trust American politics less.

Government is involved in far too much that is not government's responsibility. And what does it do well? Not a single thing I can think of.

I will vote to support the electric company over a government run utility any day.

Besides, how long will it take for the pols to decide to raise the rates to make up for their ridiculous proclivity to spend, spend, spend.

Posted by Guest JM on May. 04, 2010 @ 8:17 pm

I read a lot about proposition 16. Many think it is awful for a private company to take on the government.
But this government is California's state government that has destroyed the state I loved. As far as I Am concerned, anything the pols in Sacramento are against, I will line up to support.
As much as I do not trust corporate America, I trust Sacramento less.
Government is getting involved in far; far too much that is not government's responsibility. And what does it do well? Not a single thing I can think of.
I will vote to support the electric company over a government run utility any day.
Besides, how long will it take for the pols to decide to raise the rates to make up for their ridiculous proclivity to spend, spend, spend.

Posted by Guest JM on May. 04, 2010 @ 8:19 pm

In response to you, sir, this amendment is asking for greater governmental influence, by asking that they take a vote whenever this happens. That means that your tax money would go towards any time wasted voting. That means greater waste of government.
As to what does the government do well, it is the things that we don't think of that the government provides, the stability that we depend and can count on that is not provided by any corporation or individual. Roads, for one. Mail. However much you may gripe about UPS, would the pony express be a better system? How about firefighting? In roman times, firefighting was not provided by the city, but by press gangs that charged insurance privately...and let peoples' houses and livelihoods burn down in times of stress. How about food quality? How about the courts to determine murderers? How would you suggest taking care of it when someone in your family dies of food poisoning? Would you use the courts, or pursue a private and illegal vendetta against a faceless corporation?
You simply cannot comprehend this world as it is, without the government that you bash and hate with such great passion. Even as you decry everything they do as wrong, you blind yourself to how dependent you are on so much of it. I, for one, would hesitate to say one aspect of my life that the government has not touched in some way, whether it is the air I breathe, the water I drink, or the internet I type this on. I'm not saying the government is perfect and sometimes corrupt...just that it is an idiotic think to say that everything the government does is horrible.

Posted by Re: "I have read a lot" on May. 10, 2010 @ 8:50 pm

Lets start with a No on Prop 16 and let it roll across the country.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0GAqP9l72w

Posted by Richard Jett on May. 14, 2010 @ 4:52 pm

For the record I am small potatoes in PG+E's eyes but I have had maybe 2-3 short power interruptions over 6 years and my bill has never been more than $27 a month. I heat by wood stove in the winter. The service on the street is excellent. The utility is highly consistent in my eyes. I am leary of introducing a lesser funded power source into the grid as I have no history with such resources. I find it hard to believe that my modest bill will be reduced yet the same level of service maintained. Even worse is the scarring of the Enron effect on the peoples choice for power. Who can we trust anymore? A green source provider can play the same financial power trips as every other for profit company. So while the 800lb gorilla is threatening new energy sources from appearing on the market place this same gorilla supplies power pretty much 24/7 without fault or inconvenience. Someone mentioned more stable power in Sac than S.F. and considering how vastly different the load and grid structure is I am not surprised. We assume that new power sources will be fault free and I am pretty sure they will not have the experience PG+E has.

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