Published on June 5th, 2014 | by Roy L Hales3
PG&E Answers Questions about Community Choice Aggregation
June 5th, 2014 by Roy L Hales
Some call California’s Assembly Bill 2145 “the Monopoly Protection Act,” or a “CCA killer.” They believe that it was designed to protect large utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) from communities that would prefer to form their own utilities (CCA). The origins of this story go back a few years, but the issue was resurrected through this bill. I recently had the opportunity to ask one of the utility’s spokespersons some questions. Towards the bottom of the page, you will find the answers Pacific Gas & Electric gave me.
Community Choice Aggregations (CCAs) were authorized by the state in 2002. California’s Public Utilities Commission would subsequently report that “electrical companies hindered” their formation and caused “community choice aggregation programs to be abandoned.” Marin Clean Energy did not launch until 2010. As it happened to be an election year, Pacific Gas & Electric sponsored a ballot measure that would have made it difficult for any new community choice utilities to form. If Proposition 16 had passed, local governments would have needed to secure a 2/3 vote before they could form a CCA.
An Oakland Tribune story written just after this says: “Last week, California voters rejected Proposition 16, a statewide ballot initiative that PG&E spent $46 million to promote. Outraged at that use of ratepayer revenues, state Sen. Mark Leno on Monday announced legislation that would prohibit PG&E from using ratepayer funds for future political campaigns.”
The first paragraph of Senate Bill 790, which Leno drew up, ends with the words, “no electric utility may recover from any person other than the shareholders or other owners of the utility, any direct or indirect expenditure by the electric utility for promotional or political advertising, as defined.”
According to a recent article in the local Marin paper, Shell is one of MCE’s 24 suppliers, and IBEW’s business rep Hunter Stern emailed Marlin residents that, “We have breaking news out of Sacramento — a coalition opposed to allowing Shell Oil to take over California’s power supply has introduced a bill (AB 2145) that would stop Shell from automatically enrolling everyone in San Francisco and other municipalities outside Marin in Shell’s Marin energy program.”
Questions: Who is in this coalition? To what extent were they involved in “introducing” AB 2145? What is their relationship to the bill’s named author Stephen Bradford? How did IBEW come into possession of this inside information? Is it part of the coalition?
Several communities have tried to form CCAs since then. While they have not been openly opposed by PG&E, much of the opposition came from parties in close association with PG&E. That gives rise to the suspicion that PG&E is acting through third parties. A second CCA recently went online in Sonoma, and there are a dozen communities poised to follow. I do not think it is a coincidence that Stephen Bradford, a former utility executive, chose this time to introduce a bill (AB 2145) that makes it far more difficult for CCAs to launch.
Up until now, if a community wanted to form its own utility, it automatically enrolled everyone. They could still “opt out” and stay with their old utility, if they wished. Bradford’s bill changes this, so that the utility keeps all their customers unless they specifically “opt in” to the new community utility. This fight really appears to be over the people who probably don’t care enough to “opt out” of whichever program they are enrolled in. Most CCA people think there are enough of them that AB 2145 will kill any future attempt to form a CCA. I suspect the utilities agree, or AB 2145 wouldn’t have been drafted. That should give you sufficient background to understand the questions I asked PG&E.
RLH: According to Senate Bill 790, PG&E has to report anti-Community Choice marketing plans to the California Public Utilities Commission. I realize that at this point, this does not apply to PG&E operating through third parties. Is PG&E operating against CCA’s through third parties?
PG&E: For more than 100 years, it has been PG&E’s privilege to provide our customers safe, clean, reliable and affordable energy, and we look forward to the opportunity to do so for many years to come. At the same time, we respect the energy choices that are available to our customers, and will continue to cooperate with local governments as they consider pursuing and/or developing a CCA program.
RLH: To what extent is PG&E “behind” AB 2145? Does PG&E support it? Did PG&E have a hand in its coming into being?
PG&E: We support AB 2145 as it was recently amended, and will be working on some additional technical amendments. (emphasis mine)
RLH: The author of this bill, Stephen Bradford, is a former SCE executive. PG&E has contributed to his campaign chest and Bradford has been a speaker for at least one of your events. How closely is he aligned with PG&E’s interests? Was he acting on behalf of utilities when he framed AB 2145?
(This question was not answered)
RLH: On their website, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, local 1245, describes itself as being made up of 12,000 PG&E workers. They were active proponents of proposition 16, which you backed. They advocate being politically active on their website and have been outspoken in their opposition to Community Choice utilities in San Francisco, Sonoma and Marin county. What would you say to people who believe Local 1245 is acting on your behalf? To what extent is this true?
PG&E: IBEW 1245 and its 10,000 employees act independently of PG&E. You should contact them for comment.
RLH’s postscript: IBEW local 1245 actually said quite a lot on its website. Look at the photos & associated captions above.