League of California Cities, Public Power Association Tell Cities: Take Charge of Your Energy

Article excerpt

At a two-day workshop entitled "Taking Charge: Community Options to Protect Electric Consumers," the American Public Power Association (APPA), in conjunction with the League of California Cities, offered 200 city and county representatives options local governments have to take charge of their energy. City officials were informed of the various gradations of local control, aggregation and the franchising process.

Municipal utility districts have existed for more than 100 years, but the electricity crisis of California, the West and the possible threats for the Northeast this summer has spurred cities' interest in starting their own utilities. Alan Richardson, president and CEO of APPA, told attendees that "it's a great time to consider this. "Public power plays a great role for the future because it allows local control and it is subject to competition," he said.

In California, many are watching the efforts of San Francisco, where voters win decide in November whether to create their own utility in the seat of Pacific Gas & Electric's (PG&E) home base. Other California jurisdictions mounting similar effort are San Diego County, and the cities of Corona, Santa Rosa, and Hercules. League of California Cities lobbyist Yvonne Hunter explained that the frustration of the citizens is driving these efforts.

Jan Schori, general manager of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), said flatly that if cities want to municipalize their utilities, they must realize that it's a hard battle, referencing that SMUD was approved by voters in 1922 but was legally challenged by PG&E for 25 years before going into operation. "If you want to get public power, you must raise money and you must get the community to acknowledge and endorse your efforts," Schori said. "You must treat this like an election fight."

Schori said the three reasons why public power surpasses investment-owned utilities in meeting the customers' needs are local control, community value, and lower rates. Public power mandates that meetings are open to the public for community involvement, as compared to the private meetings of shareholders of investment-owned utilities. Schori concluded that the because public powers "do not pay taxes, do not have huge salaries, pay no dividend to shareholders, and offer no corporate perks", it is easier for public power to put the needs of customers first because "the only goal is to deliver energy to customers, not the bottom-line. …