Power Grab

The Right to Vote Act is Orwellian for PG&E's right to exploit us


The fabulous photo-illustration for Chris Hedges’ Jan. 24 column on TruthDig.org perfectly captures the content of his article, which is titled “Democracy in America Is a Useful Fiction.” The photo-manipulation is brilliant! A must-see. It shows the formal black-gowned justices of the Supreme Court grouped in their conventional stodgy pose, but with the face of each obliterated by a corporate logo. McDonalds’ golden arches rest on the shoulders of one justice, Shell Oil’s yellow icon on another’s, and so forth.

“Politicians do corporate bidding,” Hedges charges, “and stage hollow acts of political theater to keep the fiction of the democratic state alive.” Could Hedges be on to something? Let’s search for fascism in action here at the state level, where local jurisdictions can’t fund an initiative that will strengthen and enrich the community, though a corporation can fund an initiative that will ultimately, and quite literally, disempower all California communities. Then of course it will become a national precedent.

Playing at a political theater near you this June is a voting farce backed solely by PG&E. The utility doesn’t want community choice aggregation (CCA) law to ruin a perfectly good monopoly, so it has spent a thrifty $5 million so far to stop communities from purchasing electrical power, such as wind and solar, from independent producers. Their production is a voter initiative called the Ratepayers’ Right to Vote Act. We pause here to raise an eyebrow on behalf of George Orwell.

Last fall, this column (“Monopoly Money,” Oct. 21) reported that PG&E “wants to stop informed communities from following the example of Marin (and other climate-protecting jurisdictions including those in the San Joaquin Valley) to buy its own electricity through a CCA plan. Why? The new citizen-controlled power purchasing will not only replace dirty electricity with cleaner power, give Marin the authority to negotiate its own energy contracts and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the North Bay, but also divert millions of dollars from PG&E. No big surprise that the utility wants to keep jurisdictions out of the power-purchasing business.”

In that column, we heard from Marin Energy Authority interim director Dawn Weisz, who said, “This program will take about $94 million per year away from PG&E. We will be taking that money to buy renewable energy and the money left over will be used to fund local renewable and energy efficiency projects.” No wonder it’s worth a few extra million ratepayer dollars for the utility to block CCA projects. That’s a bargain.

The PG&E ballot initiative would require a two-thirds vote for any community to launch a CCA program. That is certain death to any CCA. The utility is the only funder of the initiative. Government organizations are prevented by law to spend public dollars to promote ballot issues.

PG&E is purchasing obfuscation, a dimming of the real issue. Wacky, isn’t it? The same PG&E that sells us (mostly dirty) juice for our light bulbs is using the money we send them to put us in the dark and remove the rights now afforded to us by law. Well, do we go along without a fight since the Supreme Court has shifted our status anyway, as Hedges suggests, from citizens to prisoners?

The so-called Ratepayers’ Right to Vote Act is the corporate state at work: stealing citizens’ rights and preventing community power-purchasing. The Los Angeles Times calls it PG&E’s “stealth initiative . . . a dagger aimed directly at a movement to enable municipalities to offer renewable green power to their residents in competition with private utilities.”

Communities, backed by present law, can purchase greener power and offer ratepayers lower rates. This poses serious competition to, and cuts into the profits of, PG&E. So in June the utility will have tricked voters into thinking that the ballot initiative means preserving their rights. In fact, it will remove rights. Here is fascism in action. Who can afford to buy more TV time and spin doctors than PG&E? And they’ll do it using the money we overpay them. Go figure. Then go to Powergrab.info and find out how to fight back.

Sonoma County Library