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 less renewable energy and higher electricity rates, while setting a dangerous precedent in which big business uses the initiative process for its own gain.
Specifically, Proposition 16 will change the California Constitution to require a two-thirds super-majority 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 at wholesale prices for their community.
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 or build electricity generation for their community. This is an intriguing option because with community choice, a municipality can decide the sources of electricity that power our homes: wind, solar, biomass, wave, etc.
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. There will be no option to opt out of your current investor-owned utility if Proposition 16 passes.
One investor-owned utility in particular is fighting hard to convince you that Proposition 16 is a good idea: PG&E.
PG&E wrote the 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 electric utilities have seen that this proposition is a bad PR 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 PG&E is trying to take away taxpayer choice by spending their way to a victory and giving power to a small minority, namely the investor-owned, for-profit electric utilities.
This is the wrong choice. 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 (Renewable Energy Specialist at the Community Environmental Council