Prop 16: PG&E power grab or matter of choice?

May 27, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Proposition 16 is one of the most controversial measures on the June ballot. Pacific Gas and Electric is asking for a two-thirds voter mandate before allowing local governments to buy and sell theirs own electricity. PG&E says this is about giving voters a choice in the matter. Opponents say it is a PG&E power grab by a company interested in holding on to its monopoly.

Marin County is ground zero in the war over electricity; it is the only local government in the state right now with its own public power program set up as a CCA (community choice aggregation). Proposition 16 would make setting up a CCA much more difficult; some say it would make it nearly impossible.

Bob Spofford of San Rafael is one of 7,000 people participating in the first phase of Marin County's program which kicked off May 7.

"You're doing something about global warming on a big scale across the whole county when it gets really up and running full force next year," said Spofford.

Marin Clean Energy gets 25 percent of its electricity from clean renewable sources. That is 11 percent more than PG&E.

Joyce Shimamoto of San Rafael is not impressed, and has opted to stay with PG&E. She says once you're in a CCA, it is too hard to get out.

"It just seemed too much of a hassle to switch, really, and my energy bill is so low that I didn't think it would make a difference," she said.

Local officials approved Marin Clean Energy without a vote of the people. It is that lack of a vote that PG&E says it wants to change.

"If you think voters are going to decide in their own best interest, you should vote yes on Prop 16," said Robin Swanson of Yes on 16.

But Mark Toney of The Utility Reform Network says this is not about choice, it is about forcing a two-thirds vote.

"It allows a very small minority to set policy," he said. "One-third of the voters can prevent everybody from receiving lower cost power."

Marin may be the only California community right now with a CCA, but San Francisco and a dozen other municipalities currently have proposals in different stages.

In an attempt to stem the tide, the investor-owned utility has so far contributed $46 million to pass Prop 16; $11 million of that came in the last few weeks.

"Giving our customers a voice in how their energy is delivered to them and generated is a very important issue to us, and we do absolutely think that they need to have that voice," said Katie Romans of PG&E.

Prop 16 opponents say voters already do have a choice in the officials they elect to office.

"We believe it's up to the local residents to make that decision, not for PG&E to impose its will," said Toney.

Opponents of Prop 16 have raised less than $130,000, but hope their grassroots campaign will win over voters.


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