Saturday, January 23, 2010

What Does the PG&E Ballot Initiative Claim to Do?

  • well, it's no longer the "Taxpayers Right to Vote Act" -- the Attorney General's staff determined that was too misleading.
  • now it's the more prosaic but no less ambiguous "New Two-Thirds Vote Requirement for Local Electricity Providers."
  • under existing law, most local governments can annex new areas for the expansion of electricity service with the approval of a simple majority of the voters in the area to be annexed.  The PG&E Ballot Initiative would embed in the State Constitution -- meaning that it can only be changed by another statewide election -- the requirement that the approval come from "two-thirds of the voters in the territory being served and two-thirds of the voters in the territory to be served."
  • a similar requirement would be written into the State Constitution for the formation of any new publicly owned electric utility.
  • in addition, any local government pursuing Community Choice Aggregation -- an electricity procurement process created by statute in 2002, when the investor-owned utilities were too weak financially to procure for themselves -- must also obtain a constitutionally required two-thirds voter approval before proceedingThe ability of any customer to opt out of a Community Choice program provided by existing law would be preserved.
That's the simple part, and perhaps all that PG&E intended:  a ratcheting up of voter requirements in order to create a permanent business advantage for itself.  But some combination of sloppy drafting and/or sheer malevolence could mean chaos for the municipal utilities that presently provide 25 - 30% of California's electricity. 

On December 22, 2009, eight senior members the California Senate -- including President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg -- sent a blistering letter to PG&E's CEO, Peter Darbee, accusing PG&E of violating the law which requires utilities to "cooperate fully" with those trying to organize Community Choice programs.  More seriously, the Senators said PG&E had dishonored the unwritten code of conduct that governs how business is transacted in Sacramento:
PG&E's willingness to use the initiative process to unwind a carefully negotiated statute that PG&E supported (emphasis in original) lacks the mutual respect and honor that the Legislature expects from stakeholders in the legislative process.  If PG&E has recanted its support ... it has an obligation to seek those revisions in the Legislature.  To use the initiative process to pursue PG&E's self interests and avoid engaging your partners in the AB 117 agreement, calls into question your company's integrity. 
The Senators' bottom line:  "We strongly urge you to carefully consider our concerns and refrain from pursuing this initiative."