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Megan Birney

Paul Wellman

Megan Birney


No on Prop. 16

The PG&E Initiative Would Block Community Choice Option


In the upcoming June election, you are being asked to vote on an initiative that may seem to honor your right to vote — but it doesn’t mean your vote will make any difference.

Proposition 16 hands PG&E a monopoly on electricity that will be next to impossible to overcome. It also ensures higher electricity rates and less renewable energy. It sets a dangerous precedent in which big business uses the initiative process for its own gain.

Specifically, Prop. 16 would change the California Constitution to require a two-thirds supermajority vote before any municipality (city, county, district, etc.) could form its own nonprofit public utility, expand an existing publicly owned utility, or buy clean, renewable energy for the community at wholesale prices.

That last restriction is of particular concern to us because it throws up a major roadblock to something called “community choice,” a little-known option whereby any municipality, or group of municipalities, may buy its own electricity or build its own electricity generation. This is an intriguing option because with community choice, a municipality can decide the sources of electricity that power our homes: e.g., wind, solar, biomass, or wave energy.

While the investor-owned utilities are supposed to meet statewide goals for renewable energy, they are far behind this year. In fact, coal still accounts for a major portion of California’s electricity generation. Furthermore, the utilities have little hope of meeting the 2020 goals without major changes to the process for reviewing, approving, and building renewable energy.

That is why community choice is so appealing: It empowers communities to decide their own sources of electricity. Community choice can give us local control and have a huge impact on air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and even prices. Importantly, any customer can opt out of a community choice arrangement and decide to stay with their existing utility company. By contrast, if Prop. 16 passes, there will be no option to opt out of your current investor-owned utility.

One investor-owned utility in particular is fighting hard to convince you that Proposition 16 is a good idea: PG&E. PG&E wrote this initiative and is now pouring tens of millions of dollars into the Yes on Proposition 16 campaign to maintain its market share. No other organization has donated to the campaign. The other big utility companies have seen that Prop. 16 is a bad public relations move, and no one else has anything to gain. It’s all on PG&E at this point.

Which brings me to my last point. The California initiative process was created in the early 1900s to empower citizens to enact legislation. At that time, the railroads held tremendous sway at the state capital and the people wanted a more democratic government. Now, ironically enough, PG&E is trying to take away taxpayer choice by spending its way to a victory — empowering a small minority, namely the investor-owned, for-profit electric utilities.

If PG&E wants to retain its market share, let it do so fair and square: by offering competitive prices and fulfilling its commitments to clean, renewable energy.

Megan Birney is a renewable energy specialist at Santa Barbara’s Community Environmental Council.



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