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On June 8, Napa voters will be going to the ballot for what many consider a snoozer of a primary with no important issues. However, Proposition 16 is flying under the media radar and threatens to severely curtail future energy conservation efforts by restricting our rights to create, produce and manage our alternative energy resources. The so-called Taxpayers Right to Vote, Proposition 16 is a $32.5 million Trojan Horse effort paid for by Pacific Gas & Electric to deceive the state into shutting down any future opportunities to determine our own local energy futures. Inside the belly of the beast is a sham.

Proposition 16 would mandate that any local city that wants to expand, upgrade or develop its own public utilities, or implement any new green technologies such as solar or wind, has to hold a local election and must gain a super majority of two-thirds of the voters before moving ahead or spending one dime on the project. Also, this proposition would require two-thirds majority of voters in an existing utility district to vote if someone currently outside that district wants to hook up.

Not only is PG&E spending millions of dollars to develop and push this proposition, it has manipulated the ballot voters guide pamphlet to make it difficult to read, if not impossible to understand. In the Proposition 16 ballot initiative is like reading instructions on how to build an Ikea cabinet — in Chinese! Let’s look at some basic concepts. 

Pacific Gas & Electric is one of three California major electricity providers and is not a true public utility. While it is regulated by the state, so am I as an architect. PG&E is an IOU or, Investor-Owner Utility, with stocks and shareholders demanding a continuous profit stream. However, these IOUs are not the only source of electricity or gas. Privately run public utilities known as have been in California for years and often provide services that are often cheaper by being small, local and more efficient. As more green technology such as solar, geo-thermal and wind power becomes available, cities may wish to encourage and develop their own natural resources. While only one Community Choice Aggregation currently exists in California, other  cities, and particularly Napa should be allowed to develop its own resources. This proposition suggests that providing renewable energy will be exempt, but this is far from true because the definitions of requirements are too limiting.

This has been the story of California: neighborhoods becoming cities and building their own utility companies based on the local resources available. Many more could be created to provide true energy, self-dependency and competition. That is exactly what PG&E and the other utilities hate and are fighting to eliminate any future opportunity or chance of new ventures that could cut into their profits. While PG&E has branded this as a Taxpayers Right to Vote, it is truly a guarantee of maintaining the existing monopolies. The funds used in this fake campaign come from us, the rate-payers, not the IOU shareholders. The barrage on the airways is constant and without our consent. This is completely unaccountable.

It is the clear intent of Proposition 16 to maintain the big utilities’ monopolies and to make it next to impossible for local entities to form municipal utilities or communitywide clean-energy districts. Someday any of Napa’s municipalities may collaborate to create a renewable energy utility and provide inexpensive energy to its citizens. But not if Proposition 16 is bullied through.

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PG&E has reported a profit of $1.2 billion in 2009, paid its officers huge bonuses and has notified its shareholders that the campaign cost for Proposition 16 will amount to 6-to-9 cents per share. They are saying it is a good use of their money, but in reality it is coming out of the pockets of each Northern Californian served by PG&E under the guise of protecting voters’ rights by paying millions of dollars for a slick campaign to deceive voters. PG&E may also be in violation of the state disclosure requirements for their sloppy attempts to bury PG&E’s name in the committee tagline.

The bottom line is that individual and municipalities should have the right to develop their own energy resources. The development of these resources by a municipality or private group is not a tax, and therefore should not require a two-thirds super majority vote. 

Instead, every municipality and especially Napa should take opportunity to explore and develop its own energy delivery program. Sustaining PG&E’s monopoly of our energy’s supplies is not only dangerous but bad public policy. Take the time to read the voter manual, if you can figure it out, and vote ‘no’ on Proposition 16.

(Craiker lives in Napa.)


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