Utility company spent $45 million to support measure that would make it harder for cities and counties to provide cheaper power alternatives to consumers
May 26, 2010 (San Diego) – Politics makes strange bedfellows—and in the case of Proposition 16, almost nobody is being swayed by Pacific Gas & Electric's efforts to woo voters. One of the largest coalitions in memory against a ballot proposition has been forged to oppose the utility giant's efforts, uniting business, labor, consumer, seniors, and enviornmental groups opposed to the measure.
PG&E has spent over $45 million on its “Yes on 16” campaign. If passed, the initiative on the June ballot would make it almost impossible for local cities or counties to start a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program to provide electricity at lower rates--or from cleaner sources--than a utility company.
Sacramento, Los Angeles and other municipalities have already started up CCAs, saving ratepayers money. Now PG&E wants to prohibit new CCAs unless a local government can get approval from two-thirds of the voters. But nationwide, only one in four ballot measures that require a two-thirds majority are ever approved. Simply putting a measure on the ballot for a vote costs money--and waging a campaign to win support from voters means an extra expenditure for cash-strapped municipalities.
The measure is supported by the California Chamber of Commerce, which spent close to $100,000 backing PG&E’s proposition. But many regional Chambers have voted to oppose Prop 16—including the San Diego Chamber of Commerce—which cast a whopping 79-2 vote in opposition.
Nearly 30 newspaper editorial boards statewide have come out against Prop 16. So has the League of Women Voters, the Consumer Federation of California, the Sierra Club, the California Labor Federation, the California Association of Realtors, the California Farm Bureau, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the California Democratic Party, the Los Angeles Republican Party, and dozens of other organizations.
Those in favor argue that voters should have the choice. California Chamber of Commerce president/CEO Allan Zaremberg says, “Requiring a vote will ensure that the complicated and risky choice to create a government-run electricity business gets the public discussion it deserves.”
The Proposition is officially titled the “New Two-Thirds Requirement for Local Public Utilities Electricity Providers Act” and has also been promoted as “The Taxpayers Right to Vote Act,” though its opponents include the San Diego Taxpayers Association.
But Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Dean Calbreath, writing in the San Diego Union-Tribune, offered a more descriptive alternative. “An even-shorter name could be the Utility Monopolization Act,” he said, warning that Prop 16 would provide a “sweet deal” for utilities if passed.
On June 4th, a coalition of local groups and individuals opposed to Proposition 16 will be holding a press conference at the County Administration Building, 1600 Pacific Highway, at 11 a.m.
“Prop 16 is a cunning public relations move to outwit voters,” says Jim Bell, prominent environmental designer, author and lecturer. “It uses the public’s belief in democracy to get them to vote away some of their rights…Communities now have the power to replace their poorly performing private utility with some other provider or a utility cooperative owned by ratepayers. Prop 16 takes this right away from voters.” Bell will be joined by Congressman Bob Filner, 77th district Assembly candidate Mark Hanson, and other community leaders speaking at the event.
PG&E has also drawn fire from the California Public Utilities Commission, which warned the utility to stop sending out deceptive mailers with false information.
“This is the worst kind of special interest ballot proposition,” Mindy Spratt of the Utility Reform Network concluded, “Something that would basically benefit one corporation at the expense of everybody else.”
Utility giants like SDG&E could also benefit if PG&E succeeds in passing Prop 16, Bell noted. “The money invested in this takeover bid would have been better spent on making our buildings and infrastructures more electricity-use efficient, installing PV panels on roofs and over parking lots, improving ratepayer services, increasing electricity supply and price security, and saving money.”