California Sen. Mark Leno has introduced legislation that would give utility customers the right to have a say over how investor-owned utilities, like Pacific Gas & Electric Co., distribute their profits. Under the proposal, which is being heard today, April 20, by the California Senate Energy Committee, ratepayers would have an opportunity to vote before PG&E transferred millions in profits to its shareholder entity, parent company Pacific Gas & Electric Corp.
Sponsored by The Utility Reform Network (TURN), the leading advocacy group opposing Prop 16, the measure is a clear response to the PG&E-bankrolled “Taxpayer’s Right to Vote Act.” The utility giant is poised to spend up to $35 million on the campaign to pass Prop 16, a ballot initiative requiring a two-thirds majority vote for municipal electricity programs. The proposed change in the state constitution could serve to eliminate the utility’s competition and secure its monopoly.
“Ratepayers should definitely have a say,” Leno told the Guardian. “Some of these ratepayer-generated profits go to very expensive political campaigns.”
In a press release issued about the proposed legislation, titled Senate Bill 1441, Leno highlighted an array of service problems PG&E customers have had to contend with, including “small service outages, some resulting from underground explosions, due to the utility company’s failure to invest adequate resources in routine preventive maintenance and upgrades on its aging delivery system.”
Not surprisingly, PG&E sent a letter of opposition to the bill, charging that it would have “significant negative impacts on utility operations, reliability, and costs to customers,” the opposite argument that Sen. Leno has used to promote it. Supporters include TURN, the Agricultural Energy Consumers Association, and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District.
If the legislation passes, the earliest it could take effect would be the first of the year.