PG&E�s Green Clout On California�s Prop. 16

by Terrence Murray - June 1, 2010

When Californians go to the polls on June 8th, they have a chance to vote on a ballot amendment that could result in a massive change to the green energy landscape in the country�s most populous state. Proposition 16 is an initiative that, if approved by voters, would require a of the electorate before any public agency in the state could enter the retail power business.

Politics is a full contact sport everywhere, but California�s system of direct democracy makes the golden state home to some especially bruising political campaigns. The battle over Proposition 16 has been no exception. Supporters, most notably the utility company Pacific Gas and Electric �(PG&E), claim Prop. 16 will prevent local governments from squandering taxpayer dollars on quixotic sojourns into publicly financed power without first getting voter approval. The utility, which provides gas and electricity to the northern two thirds of the state, contributed over $32 to the Yes on 16 campaign, producing a series of slick television airing throughout California.

Critics of the initiative call the proposition an and worry that it could hurt California�s ongoing drive to develop sources of green energy. �We believe Prop. 16 will stall California�s clean energy economic recovery,� says Sarah Rose, Executive Vice President of the California League of Conservation Voters, a group opposing Prop. 16. �[If passed] the initiative would limit the ability of communities interested in exploring alternative energy options by raising the bar for adoption.�

Former state energy Comissioner John Geesman, a fierce proponent of green energy, echoed Rose�s comments at . According to Geesman PG&E should improve its own operations and explore more green options “rather than manipulating the electorate to kneecap their few competitors.” The often staid LA Times was less charitable than either Rose or Geesman, claiming that �.�

For its part PG&E maintains the initiative gives voters the right to determine how public money is spent and defends its record on green energy.� The company points out that it currently delivers , , and was the first utility in the United States to purchase wave energy. Opponents counter that the threat of competition from municipalities helped spur PG&E�s green energy efforts in the first place, a stimulus that will be removed if Prop. 16 passes.

‘[If passed] the initiative would limit the ability of communities interested in exploring alternative energy options by raising the bar for adoption.’

However, Prop. 16�s foes are having difficulty getting their message heard by the electorate. While PG&E is waging the most expensive ballot campaign this election cycle, opponents are financing their efforts with totaling less than $40,000. Some Californian municipalities opposed to Prop. 16 are performing a political end around by setting up public power initiatives before Election Day. �The left-leaning majority on the San Francisco County board of supervisors is pushing to finalize nearly $400 million deal that would see San Francisco buy energy from sources other than PG&E. Just north of San Francisco Marin County�s own public power program, , officially began providing service May 7.

Marin�s move was not without its own political drama, however. Only days before Marin officially launched its foray into public power, PG&E sent out roughly 6,000 letters urging county residents to opt out of getting their power from Marin Clean Energy. The California Public Utilities Commission promptly informed PG&E the letters violated a 2002 state law, and the company apologized for the mailings, calling them a �.� With Marin Clean Energy apparently here to stay PG&E is now left hoping its massive outlay on Prop. 16 does not go down in history as yet another mistake.

Image: iStockphoto

3 Responses to “PG&E�s Green Clout On California�s Prop. 16”

  1. Mauricio says:

    PG&E is making a mockery of our initiative process.

    A corporation spending 45 million of their rate-payers’ money, while raising their rates, to protect their monopoly and ensure they’re able to continue raising rates, on captive consumers that have no other choice.

  2. Mauricio says:

    So, obviously, vote NO on 16!

  3. [...] allows the electorate a direct vote on new state laws, one of the most discussed election results may be the defeat of Proposition 16. Had it passed, Prop 16 would have required cities and counties in California to get the approval [...]

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