Some say Prop 16 is a power grab by PG&E

March 17, 2010 7:32:13 PM PDT
Depending on whom you believe, Proposition 16, a measure on the June ballot, is either a power grab by PG&E or an attempt to give voters more power.

As early as this June, much of Marin County will be able to purchase power directly from local governments. San Francisco is in line to do the same thing. Now no one can say for sure that this will reduce rates, but PG&E has spent $28 million to change the rules on these power plans.

Last month, the Marin Energy Authority voted to get into the power business. Soon, most Marin County residents will have the option to buy their power from the authority or remain with PG&E.

San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi supports an effort by San Francisco to follow in Marin's footsteps.

"PG&E is literally doing what Enron did nearly 10 years ago and decided to kill all competition," said Mirkarimi.

Proposition 16 would make it much harder in the future by requiring voters to approve such moves by a two-thirds majority. PG&E so far is the sole funder of Proposition 16, contributing more than $28 million to the campaign.

On Wednesday, the company brought out a high profile paid consultant, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, to testify at a hearing before the state Public Utilities Commission.

"I think Prop 16 is the proper framework for providing the guidance and avoiding the distinct possibility of a total disaster," said Brown.

Supporters of Proposition 16 say its 2/3rds requirement is about giving voters a choice.

"More and more governments are considering this option, and we think it's really important that there be transparency and that folks know exactly what they're getting into," said Robin Swanson from the Yes on Prop 16 campaign.

Protesters outside Wednesday's hearing say Proposition 16 is merely a power play by the utility. They say requiring a two-thirds vote is the equivalent of saying "no."

"We think a two-thirds requirement is excessive and all it does is basically secure PG&E's monopoly in perpetuity," said Marin Energy Authority vice chair Shawn Marshall.

Both San Francisco and Marin say they are committed to buying more renewable energy than PG&E. Marin has also passed a resolution requiring its rates to equal or beat PG&E's rates.

The Marin Energy Authority is the first in California to set up this system of buying its own power, and then using PG&E to distribute that power.

A similar proposal passed by San Francisco is now before the California Public Utilities Commission.


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