Pathological Greed & Electric
by Todd Walton, March 3, 2010
Repeat after me. Pacific Gas and Electric is not a public utility. They would like us to think they are a public utility, but they are not. PG&E is a huge amoral corporation owned by an even larger amoral multinational corporation with one goal transcendent over all others: to make obscene profits through the maintenance of energy monopolies.
A year or so ago I reported in these pages that one of those little slips of paper accompanying my PG&E bill, those slips 99.9% of us don’t read, informed us that PG&E would be raising our rates to pay for their new smart meters to improve PG&E’s efficiency and raise their profits and increase their control over our use of energy. I pointed out that the smart meters would pay for themselves within a few years, but we would continue to pay higher rates because of them for all eternity. Alas, my article did not incite a consumer revolt.
Now in last month’s bill, another of those little slips of paper informed us that PG&E is going to raise our rates to pay for the development of a wind power project. We will pay today so they can build wind generators that they, not we, will own forever, and we will pay again tomorrow when the energy from those wind generators we paid for (but don't own) comes online. Good for PG&E, but not very good for us.
And this month there were two more slips of paper accompanying my bill. One slip said PG&E is raising our rates “to recover costs associated with performing seismic studies at Diablo Canyon Power Plant.” DCPP is their (not our) nuclear power plant built on a major earthquake fault, a plant, by the way, that has never and will never pay for itself, and that our grandchildren will somehow have to decommission (at a cost of many billions of dollars) if the murderous thing doesn’t melt down first. The second slip said PG&E is raising our rates on top of the aforementioned raises to “recover costs associated with renewal of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant operating licenses.” As in, they’re going to pour even more of our money down their nuclear power toilet.
Terrible, right? We should create local community-owned power companies and develop solar and wind power that we, the people…
Hold on. PG&E has just spent several million of our dollars putting Proposition 16 on the June 8 ballot, a measure that would require a two-thirds majority of local voters to approve the creation of community-owned power companies, as opposed to a simple majority. And PG&E plans to spend $39-$40 million more of our money to make sure Proposition 16 passes.
Why would they do such a dastardly thing? Repeat after me. PG&E is not a public utility. They own us, we don’t own them.
When I lived in Sacramento, I was privileged to help launch the campaign that eventually closed down the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant. That closure of a fully operational nuclear power plant by a vote of the people is the only such accomplishment in our nation’s history. The only one. And believe me, we did not win with two-thirds of the vote. Nor were we directly up against PG&E, but rather the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which we, technically, owned.
But I guarantee you PG&E contributed heavily to try to defeat the will of the people (and no doubt raised our rates to pay for their contributions.) And I am absolutely certain the lesson of that successful democratic process was not lost on those corporate gamers responsible for subverting the will of the people. The lesson is this: if you can't fool half the people, change the law so you only have to fool one out of three of the people.
Todd Walton’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com.