Prop. 16: PG&E Abuses Power to Create Monopoly
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Category: Opinion > Op-Eds
Once again, PG&E is flexing its corporate power to deceive the people of California. As the primary funder of Prop.osition 16, PG&E is spending more than $40 million dollars trying to sell something called "The Taxpayers' Right to Vote Act" to California's voters. But voters won't see anything like that on the ballot when they go to vote. That's because Prop. 16 is in fact titled the "New 2/3 Vote Requirement for Local Public Electricity Providers."
In fact, Prop. 16 has very little to do with the taxpayers' right to vote, and everything to do with locking out PG&E's only competition. So don't be fooled by the slick ads and glossy mailers. This is simply one company, spending millions of dollars, trying to get its own monopoly advantage built into our state constitution.
Growing up in California, I've seen tactics like this before firsthand. My childhood was spent with my mother, Erin Brockovich, while she worked around the clock against PG&E to expose their Chromium 6 contamination of people's ground water. I learned the direct effects of what happens when one corporation has no competition, too little transparency, and too much power. The money spent by PG&E on bogus studies during the Chromium 6 lawsuits, for example, misled the public and attempted to cover up the real impact of PG&E's actions.
If Prop. 16 passes, the public will once again have been misled. This time, PG&E's Prop.osed $4 billion in rate hikes over the next three years will go unchallenged by any competition, and will harm already struggling lower income customers in this tough economy.
Prop. 16 would eliminate competition by imposing an impossibly high hurdle of a 2/3 vote before any publicly-owned, non-profit utility company could expand its service to new customer areas.
PG&E rates are, on average, 20 percent higher than these public utilities. PG&E spends the excess on shareholder profits, executive salaries, lobbying expenses and political donations, and, of course Prop. 16.
At a recent meeting of nervous PG&E investors, CEO Peter Darbee explained that requiring a supermajority 2/3 vote will ultimately make it easier and cheaper for PG&E to stop public power efforts. He assured them that their investment in Prop. 16 would pay off in the end, and mean fewer, not more, fights with communities trying to join public power or pursue their own clean energy objectives. Meanwhile, Darbee will be receiving a pay package 8 percent higher than that of the CEO of Goldman Sachs.
There's nothing new about PG&E flexing its financial muscle against public power. Just as they spent whatever it took to try and stop my mom, the company has already spent more than $25 million beating back challenges from municipal utilities and local governments, and fears more community choice efforts are on the way. What's new is that PG&E is presenting itself as more democratic and affordable option than publicly owned power companies. Neither is true.
As customers who have suffered through repeated rate hikes, problematic smart meters and frequent outages know, PG&E is far less transparent and far less accountable to its customers than publicly owned utilities are.
Municipal boards are elected and can be removed by voters, and no publicly owned utility has ever asked customers for a penny in bailout money, much less $9 billion, as PG&E did after the deregulation debacle.
Let us not be misled, California. Prop. 16 does not come out of a popular movement of voters dissatisfied with the current process. It comes out of the plush corporate offices of PG&E, and is funded solely by that company out of profits from captive customers. On June 8, let us prove once again to PG&E that they have underestimated California, and that once again, we will not be fooled.
Katie Brown is a volunteer on the No on Prop. 16 campaign. Reply to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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