Monday, October 30, 2006

Public Power Politics

They are really on show in this election around who provides power to Yolo County and the SMUD vs PG&E battle is looked at.

An excerpt.

October 26, 2006.
Power grab

PG&E and SMUD duke it out in an uneven fight for Yolo County’s 77,000 ratepayers
By Cosmo Garvin Photo By Larry Dalton

To people like Dan Berman, PG&E’s 137 miles of power lines represent a tremendous opportunity for Yolo County to determine its own future--to literally take power into its own hands. If the public-power movement in Yolo County has a founding father, Berman is arguably that guy. He got interested in taking over PG&E’s public-power system, and turning it into a not-for-profit municipal utility, 10 years ago while researching a book he published in 1996 called Who Owns the Sun?

“It was just the principle of local control and democracy,” Berman said. “This is the kind of thing that should be democratically controlled. You shouldn’t just be taking 11- or 12-percent profit off the top.”

From 1997 to 2000, Berman and other public-power advocates attempted to establish a Davis Municipal Utility District, but were successfully blocked by a well-organized and well-funded campaign by PG&E.

The campaign got the attention of elected officials not just in Davis, but also in Woodland and West Sacramento, who began to look longingly at SMUD and imagine what locally controlled public power could do for their citizens.

To get out from under PG&E’s high rates, and to keep that money in the local economy, the elected representatives of Yolo County last year asked SMUD to help them. In May of 2005, SMUD agreed to begin the process of annexing the communities of Davis, Woodland and West Sacramento into its service area.

For the expansion to go forward, the move has to be approved by voters on both sides of the Sacramento River. Yolo County voters will weigh in on Measures H and I. For Sacramento County, Measure L will decide PG&E’s fate.

If all three ballot measures are approved, SMUD will need to purchase PG&E’s electric system, 137 miles of electricity lines, poles and transformers. Less than 1 percent of PG&E’s territory is at stake in this proposed annexation, but the San Francisco-based for-profit utility is fighting as though its very existence is in danger.