The New York Times has published an important article about the movement all across America to municipalize electric utilities. Cities everywhere are realizing that public power means better rates and more reliable service:
Boulder, Colorado, voted for public power, but not for the usual reasons — i.e., better rates and more reliable service. They opted for democratic control of their power in order to advance the goal of becoming a carbon-neutral city. The article below, from the Huffington Post, discusses how municipalization (city ownership of the electric utility) can foster energy competition and encourage a decentralized, clean energy future:
Boulder, Colorado, is moving into the clean energy future, by taking control of their electric utility.
The people of Bulgaria are waking up to the raw deal they’ve been dealt by electricity privatization. It’s not free enterprise, because there is no competition. It’s just corporate monopoly. Now they are demanding their power back.
Check out the article here:
People challenge the riot police as they block traffic during a protest against high electricity bills in Sofia February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Tsvetelina Belutova
From Common Dreams, an excellent article about the success of green energy initiatives in Germany. This is what can be accomplished when utilities function in the public interest rather than for corporate profit.
How Germany Is Getting to 100 Percent Renewable Energy
There is no debate on climate change in Germany. The temperature for the past 10 months has been three degrees above average and we’re again on course for the warmest year on record. There’s no dispute among Germans as to whether this change is man-made, or that we contribute to it and need to stop accelerating the process.
Since 2000, Germany has converted 25 percent of its power grid to renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass. The architects of the clean energy movement Energiewende, which translates to “energy transformation,” estimate that from 80 percent to 100 percent of Germany’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.
Germans are baffled that the United States has not taken the same path. Not only is the U.S. the wealthiest nation in the world, but it’s also credited with jump-starting Germany’s green movement 40 years ago.
“This is a very American idea,” Arne Jungjohann, a director at the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation (HBSF), said at a press conference Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. “We got this from Jimmy Carter.”
Germany adopted and continued Carter’s push for energy conservation while the U.S. abandoned further efforts. The death of an American Energiewende solidified when President Ronald Reagan ripped down the solar panels atop the White House that Carter had installed.
Since then, Germany has created strong incentives for the public to invest in renewable energy. It pays people to generate electricity from solar panels on their houses. The effort to turn more consumers into producers is accelerated through feed-in tariffs, which are 20-year contracts that ensure a fixed price the government will pay. Germany lowers the price every year, so there’s good reason to sign one as soon as possible, before compensation falls further.
The money the government uses to pay producers comes from a monthly surcharge on utility bills that everyone pays, similar to a rebate. Ratepayers pay an additional cost for the renewable energy fund and then get that money back from the government, at a profit, if they are producing their own energy.
In the end, ratepayers control the program, not the government. This adds consistency, Davidson says. If the government itself paid, it would be easy for a new finance minister to cut the program upon taking office. Funding is not at the whim of politicians as it is in the U.S.
“Everyone has skin in the game,” says writer Osha Gray Davidson. “The movement is decentralized and democratized, and that’s why it works. Anybody in Germany can be a utility.”
The press conference the foundation organized with InsideClimate News comes two weeks after one of the biggest storms in U.S. history and sits in the shadow of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would unlock the world’s second-largest oil reserve in Canada. The event also comes one day after a report that says that the U.S. is on track to become the leading oil and gas producer by 2020, which suggests that the U.S. has the capability to match Germany’s green movement, but is instead using its resources to deepen its dependency on fossil fuels.
Many community organizers have given up on government and are moving to spark a green movement in the U.S. through energy cooperatives.
Anya Schoolman is a D.C. organizer who has started many co-ops in the district although she began with no experience. She says that converting to renewable energy one person at a time would not work in the U.S. because of legal complexities and tax laws that discourage people from investing in clean energy.
Grid managers in the U.S., she explains, often require households to turn off wind turbines at night, a practice called “curtailment.”
“It’s a favor to the utility companies,” she says, which don’t hold as much power in Germany as they do in the United States.
Individuals and cooperatives own 65 percent of Germany’s renewable energy capacity. In the U.S. they own 2 percent. The rest is privately controlled.
The largest difference, panelists said, between Germany and the U.S. is how reactive the government is to its citizens. Democracy in Germany has meant keeping and strengthening regulatory agencies while forming policies that put public ownership ahead of private ownership.
“In the end,” says Davidson, who spent a month in Germany studying the Energiewende, “it isn’t about making money. It’s about quality of life.”
This article was made possible by the Center for Study of Responsive Law.
Thomas Hedges works for the Center for Responsive Law in Washington, DC
Just days after the November 2012 general election, the WUTC, the regulatory agency responsible for Puget Sound Energy, fined them $250,000 for their handling of low income accounts. In the election, PSE, after spending an ungodly amount of money, was able to defeat County Proposition 1, which would have allowed for competition in their Thurston County Monopoly Market. The Prop. was defeated by about 40 to 60 percent. Over one hundred thousand votes were cast. PSE spent almost $600,000 on the PAC that they formed, plus untold additional monies on various other campaigns they run to curry favor with their rate-payers. Following is the WUTC story as posted on their website about the November 2012 settlement:
Media contact: (360) 664-1116 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Docket Number: U-110808
State regulators fine Puget Sound Energy $250,000
Company failed to comply with a state order and violated consumer protection rules
OLYMPIA, Wash. – State regulators have fined Puget Sound Energy (PSE) $250,000 for violating a 2010 order that required the utility to review and correct specific customer accounts.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) has approved a multi-party settlement of a complaint that alleged 515 violations of the 2010 order. The parties include: commission staff, PSE, the Public Counsel Section of the Attorney General’s Office, and The Energy Project, a nonprofit group that represents low-income people.
The UTC originally penalized the company $104,300 in October 2010 for improperly handling accounts of customers, including many low-income customers, disconnected for nonpayment. In addition to that penalty, the company was ordered to make corrections to 26 specific customer accounts identified by UTC staff.
In the 2010 order, the UTC also penalized the company for improperly applying energy assistance pledge funds made to low-income customers’ accounts. Energy assistance pledges are intended to help consumers keep the lights and heat on during the winter months. Commission staff cited PSE for improperly applying those funds to a prior balance, which led to additional threats of disconnection for customers.
PSE has now provided refunds and credits to the mishandled customer accounts, and changed its billing practices to ensure that customer payments are applied correctly. The company also agreed to make a $75,000 contribution to its low-income assistance program. The utility is not allowed to pass the penalty costs to customers through rates.
Bellevue-based PSE serves more than 1 million electric customers and about 785,000 natural gas customers, primarily in the Puget Sound region of Western Washington.
The UTC is the three-member state agency in charge of regulating the private, investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in Washington. It is the commission’s responsibility to ensure regulated companies provide safe and reliable service to customers at reasonable rates, while allowing them the opportunity to earn a fair profit.
Editor’s note: A copy of the penalty complaint may be found at www.utc.wa.gov/110808.
In the story, it was mentioned that WUTC is responsible for ensuring that private monopoly utilities provide safe and reliable service while allowing them to earn a fair profit.
Does it seem fair to have been paying the highest rates, yet receive service with one of the worst reliability ratings?
Has PSE been taking too much profit? Just who exactly is WUTC protecting? What seems fair to you?
Letter to the editor, published in The Olympian, October 28, 2012:
JACK JANDA | Shelton (Janda is a commissioner of Mason County PUD 1)
In 1930, the voters of Washington state approved Initiative 1, giving them the authority to create their own nonprofit, locally regulated public utility districts to “conserve the water and power resources of the state of Washington for the benefit of the people thereof, and to supply public utility services, including water and electricity for all uses.”
Unlike private utilities, PUDs are run by an elected, nonpartisan board of commissioners who are directly accountable to the voters. Commissioners meet at least monthly in open meetings where members of the public can observe and participate in the decision-making process. PUDs are not-for-profit utilities owned by the community.
Consequently, public utility district rates are generally lower – and service values higher – than investor-owned utilities. PUDs also pay state and local taxes that help pay for schools and other community services; sponsor programs to encourage conservation of power and water; and take part in other outreach programs.
Every public power system is different, reflecting its hometown characteristics and values, but all have a common purpose: providing safe, reliable, not-for-profit utility services at a reasonable price while protecting the environment.
You are cordially invited to a
Celebration of Impending Victory in our
Campaign for Public Power
in Thurston County
Saturday, Oct. 27th, 5pm to 9:30
2910 36th Ave. NW
(Left on 36th off of Cooper Pt. Rd., first driveway on Right)
Hosted by Chris Stearns and the
Thurston Public Power Initiative Executive Board
We know how to put the “fun” in fundraising, so come prepared to have a good time!
All proceeds to benefit the Thurston Public Power Initiative.
(We only have to raise $540,000 to catch up to PSE!)
We are proud to receive the editorial endorsement of Olympia Power & Light, a newspaper which has built its reputation on insightful and in-depth local political coverage. While we may never get the support of Tacoma-based daily advertising circulars with lucrative PSE advertising contracts, we know that honest journalists are in our corner. Thank you, OP&L!
Thurston County Proposition 1: Public Power
The first is responsiveness and accountability. Private companies are capable of providing excellent products and excellent customer service when they have a financial incentive to do so. If they must convince customers to buy their product, and then convince them to buy it again and again, they must keep those customers happy.
But that changes when the private company has a monopoly. When the customer literally has no choice other than to buy from a certain company, then – from a purely practical business perspective – any effort to please the customer is a waste of money.
Puget Sound Energy is a monopoly, the only electric power provider in Thurston County. (Sure, a few people live off the grid, but that’s not a reasonable option for most.) PSE’s goal as a company is to maximize income and minimize costs, including the cost of pleasing you. Sure, when the power goes out, they have to get it back on, but they don’t have to do it quickly. They don’t have to schedule an appointment at a time convenient for you, or act promptly to fix your billing problem, or open up their internal discussions to public review.
It’s not that PSE directors don’t care about you. It’s that they have a financial incentive not to care. They are accountable to shareholders, not to you.
(To a lesser degree, they are accountable to state regulators. You do remember when those regulators punished PSE for failing to get the power back for days, right? …Ha ha ha, sorry, that was a joke.)
You just get to pay your bill month after month. So whaddaya gonna do about it? Buy electricity from someone else?
A public electric utility is run by elected commissioners. If the customers (voters) get unhappy, they can vote out the board of directors (commissioners). Democracy never fully pleases everyone, but in this case democratic accountability creates a powerful incentive to be responsive to customer needs.
The second reason to support public power can best be summed up by this statistic: 22 out of 22. That is, there are 22 public utilities that currently provide electricity to local customers in Washington State, and all 22 of them charge lower rates than PSE.
The explanation is simple. Public utilities can buy power at lower cost, can borrow money at lower cost, and have no profit margin. It’s a public utility district trifecta.
PSE has tried to argue that government is so inefficient that it will still end up with higher rates. However, that hasn’t happened so far, 22 out of 22 times.
We’ll say it again, slowly: Public utilities… charge… lower… electric… rates… than… PSE.
Public power is more accountable and less expensive. Vote yes on Thurston County Proposition 1 for public power.
It took every penny we could scrape up or borrow, and we were able to put out a mailer to about 50,000 voters, concentrating on areas of the county where we have not been able to canvass yet.
We’re proud of it, and think it does a good job of presenting our case. Please take a look!
You can download the PDF here.
Public Power mailer – front.
Public Power mailer – back.
As always, we need your support in this fight against corporate power. You can find a link to donate on the upper right hand side-bar of the home page, as well as at this link here. Thank you, and if you haven’t already, please have a Yes day!
Published in The Olympian, October 21, 2012
(Maggie Roberts and her husband, Dave Siemens, told their story to our campaign staff months ago. We thought it was so perfectly emblematic of PSE’s poor service to our county, that we featured their story on our mailer that just went out to some 50,000 county residents. This is their letter to the editor.)
Vote for Prop 1, reduce power outages
A proven strategy, used to defeat statewide initiatives and referendums: Create chaos and doubt, then conquer. If doubts are planted in voters’ heads, they will vote no, even if those doubts are false and have no basis in fact.
Dave Siemens and Maggie Roberts, and granddaughter Claire.
My power has been out seven times since the storm last January. Sixteen years ago when I moved into my home, the power was out 17 times. Most years I average eight to 12 outages. In the same geographical area of the county and down the road a bit, my neighbors have just a few outages a year. They are served by a public utility district.I worked for years in Mason County – and was served by another public utility district – I had two outages during work hours in 15 years. I can’t help but think that if the profits gained by Puget Sound Energy were used to fix the infrastructure in my area of the county, that have clearly been a problem for years – perhaps I would not be so consistently without power.
Please do not be afraid of change. Just look at the service records of the other PUDs in our state (look at the rates too while your at it). Proposition 1 allows (not requires) us to acquire and create a PUD for Thurston County.
To no one’s surprise, PSE’s campaign has distinguished itself, not only for the sheer brazenness of its misinformation, but also by its unprecedented spending.
Prior to this campaign, the most expensive ever run in Thurston County was Kevin O’Sullivan’s failed bid for a County Commission seat. He spent around $110,000. PSE’s front group, the Alliance to Protect Thurston Power (APTP), will have spent more than five times that amount be election day.
PSE itself has provided the bulk of that money, with smaller amounts donated by other for-profit utilities in the state, and an affiliated business group.
Not one dollar has been contributed by a human being, and not one dollar has come from any person or group in Thurston County.
Voters must ask themselves: Is our democracy for sale? Can we afford to allow any corporation to have this much influence on our local political system?
A Grays Harbor PUD Commissioner back in the 1950′s was interviewed about the effects of bringing public power to that county. His answer surprised the interviewer. He didn’t cite lower rates or better service or local control as the biggest effect. He said the most important effect was “getting those S.O.B.s out of our local politics,” so they could no longer buy city councils, county commissioners or local legislators.
A YES vote for Proposition 1 is a vote for democracy!
October 16, 2012
Mayor Harding’s lack of support is misplaced because Proposition 1 has nothing to do with his concerns about rates, cost estimates, or not having enough information.
A vote for Proposition 1 authorizes the Public Utility District (PUD) to provide electric service to Thurston County, yet does not obligate public officials to choose a PUD.
When Proposition 1 passes, a complete a feasibility study will then be conducted to determine where and if public power will benefit the people of Thurston County.
Of course Mr. Harding does not have enough information, because the voters have yet to authorize the full study that comes after approval of Prop. 1.
Based on information provided from that study, local government representatives (City Councils, County Commissioners) will then choose the best option to serve their constituents, negotiate with the chosen provider, and reach an agreement to provide electricity.
Mayor Harding said he is really “concerned that enough factual information is getting out to the public.”
I am really concerned that the boatload of money being thrown against Prop. 1 by a multinational corporation who owns our area’s 100-year-plus monopolistic electric supplier has affected our misread elected officials, muddying the waters of public opinion with their misinformation.
Proposition 1 is a referendum on public choice for electric power supply – the feasibility study, cost comparisons and public debate will come once the voters approve Prop. 1.
John D. Pearce, Chair of the Thurston Public Power Initiative (Prop. 1) said best:
“Voting “Yes” on Thurston County Proposition 1 is the only way you will ever have a choice of who supplies your electricity. It starts the process of self-determination and gives us the option to get out from under PSE’s monopoly.
Isn’t it better to have a choice?”
Parallel University show (KAOS 89.3 FM Radio):
Public Utility Districts: Then and Now
with Grays Harbor PUD Commissioner Tom Casey
This is a recording from Thursday 18 October 2012, originally broadcast on KAOS 89.3 FM radio program, Parallel University. Thank you to Grays Harbor PUD Commissioner Tom Casey, KAOS Radio, Parallel University, and Molly Gibbs, Olympia Move to Amend, for hosting the show while Kim Dobson was away on other business.
Grays Harbor PUD Commissioner Tom Casey was interviewed at the Sept. 27th League of Women Voters forum at the Washington Center. He very succinctly and powerfully explains the historic importance — for the entire state — of the Thurston Public Power Initiative.
As Thurston County reels under an unprecedented onslaught of campaign advertising and misinformation, one remark Commissioner Casey makes is especially timely. When surveyed about the effect of bringing public power to Grays Harbor, a commissioner in Grays Harbor in the Fifties answered simply, “We got the SOBs out of our politics. They no longer elect the city council, the county commissioners, the state legislators.” Casey added, “See how powerful that is?”
What kind of democracy can we expect, when corporations buy elections? We have a tremendous opportunity, not only to take control of vital community infrastructure, but also to strengthen our democratic system, and ensure the blessings of liberty for our grandchildren, and for theirs. Vote YES on Prop. #1!
Steve Klein, prominent Yelm citizen and widely-read community-affairs blogger, sat down with John Pearce, public power campaign chair, for a discussion of Proposition 1.
Based on that conversation, as well as Steve’s observations of both pro and con testimony at the Yelm City Council, he wrote the following article for his YelmCommunity website:
Thanks for the show of support, Steve!
John Pearce, chair of the Thurston Public Power Initiative, made the following remarks to the Gateway Rotary of North Thurston on Oct. 10:
A “Yes” vote on Thurston County Proposition 1 is a vote to give Thurston County residents a choice: another option besides the foreign-owned monopoly we have now. It’s simply a vote for alternatives.
Publicly-supplied electricity already works well and serves 55% of Washington State residents with lower rates and more reliable service than we get from PSE. It works well in Mason, Lewis, Grays Harbor, Clark, Clallam, Snohomish, and in 16 other counties. It also works in Tacoma, McCleary, Centralia, and Seattle.
As a volunteer member and Chair of Thurston Public Power Initiative, my goal is to see that Thurston County residents get a choice. When approved, Thurston County Proposition 1 gives us a possible alternative to PSE’s 100+ year electric monopoly. It allows any local government approving body—the County Commission or any of the City Councils—to consider public power on behalf of their constituents.
Do you agree that the #1 responsibility of any government body is to work in the public interest? Then vote “Yes” for Proposition 1 and make sure your government has the ability to choose what is best for you.
Upon approval, Thurston County Proposition 1 authorizes the Public Utility District (PUD) to provide electric service to Thurston County, but does not obligate them. They will then research and complete a feasibility study to determine where and when public power might benefit the people of Thurston County.
Local government representatives (City Councils, County Commissioners) will then choose the option best suited to serve their constituents and negotiate with the chosen provider and reach an agreement on a franchise (permission and rights) to provide electricity.
This will be paid for with revenue bonds which are backed by the electric revenues to be collected. There is no additional debt to the residents. Your current electric bill includes payment for PSE debt, so it would be like switching from renting to buying the system, because public power systems are owned by the residents.
There are many places for residents to weigh in along this path, both at the public PUD meetings and at your local government’s public meetings. We of the Thurston Public Power Initiative will be there with you, supporting what is best for Thurston County—even if it means waiting on public power.
Voting “Yes” on Thurston County Proposition 1 is the only way you will ever have a choice of who supplies your electricity. It starts the process of self-determination and gives us the option to get out from under PSE’s monopoly.
Isn’t it better to have a choice?
(transcript differs slightly)
Tom Nogler’s outstanding letter to the editor to The Olympian can be found here.
We’ve reprinted the text below:
Profit-taking makes PSE a bad corporate citizen
TOM NOGLER | Olympia • Published October 11, 2012
I urge voters to beware of the many distortions presented by Puget Sound Energy and their hired operatives in their efforts to defeat Proposition 1, the public power initiative.
PSE greatly inflates the price of its system in Thurston County to frighten the public. The Washington state Department of Revenue reports the total appraised value of PSE’s Thurston County assets at $131.2 million. If PSE’s assets are truly worth what they claim, they are paying less than their share and taking away funds from Thurston County schoolchildren, police and firefighters.
PSE is not a good corporate citizen. It is owned and run by a large multi-national corporation that sucked $17 million in profit out of Thurston County in 2011. They then brag about donating 0.003 percent of this profit to charities. PSE wants you to believe that the public is not ready for public power, that the economy is not strong enough to make an investment in public power.
When the economy is struggling, we can’t allow corporate monopoly prices to make families struggle to pay higher rates year after year. A locally elected commission is more likely to hold down power rates and solve environmental problems than an out-of-country conglomerate focused on profits. Don’t let professional political mercenaries with money scare you with their distortions about public power.
Well-known local musician, producer, business owner — and Chamber of Commerce member — Calvin Johnson recently penned an excellent article on his company’s (K Records) website. The article addressed both the short-sightedness of the Chamber’s decision, and the importance of local economic sustainability, which the Proposition 1 campaign represents.
We’ve reprinted the article here on our website, though of course we encourage you to visit the K Records site, where you can read the original — and check out one of Olympia’s most dynamic and creative businesses.
Thanks for the support, Calvin!
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
For Immediate Release
Contact: John Pearce, Chair@ThurstonPublicPower.org
Olympia, WA—The Thurston Public Power Initiative is calling on Governor Chris Gregoire to take a second look at Thurston County Proposition 1, the public power initiative.
“We’re perplexed.” stated Initiative Chair John Pearce. “We respect her concern for State Government. So why is she against saving millions of dollars for taxpayers?”
On Monday, October 08, political consultants for Puget Sound Energy released a statement from Washington Governor Christine Gregoire where she stated her opposition to Thurston County Proposition 1. This measure will be on November’s ballot. If passed by voters it would allow Thurston Public Utility District (PUD) to enter the electric utility business.
Proposition 1 does not mandate any particular use of that authority. However, Thurston PUD recently released a report on three possible options for using cheap federal power to provide limited service in Thurston County. One option called for providing service to the Olympia core area, including the Capital Campus.
“Thurston PUD’s study shows that they could provide service to the State and save over a million dollars per year. The Governor’s statement makes no mention of this. Did she read the report? We know the Governor is busy, so we wonder if she’s studied both sides of this issue. We are asking Governor Gregoire if she’d be willing to take a second look before drawing conclusions.”
The Governor’s statement mentions last January’s sever winter storm. “We agree that power crews face difficult and dangerous situations. We applaud their commitment and dedication wherever they work across the state, whether publicly or privately employed.” said Pearce. “The Governor is concerned about risk” he continued. “PUDs provide reliable power to almost a million customers in 23 counties. Proposition 1 makes no commitments, so there is no risk.”
The Governor says that PSE has “has helped to facilitate the transition away from coal.”
Pearce responds: “Again we are perplexed. PSE generates over half their power from coal, and they announced last July that they’ve signing a long-term commitment for even more coal-fired electricity. How is this moving away from coal?”
Pearce concludes: “A “Yes” vote for Thurston County Proposition 1 opens the possibility that Puget Sound Energy will finally have a Thurston County competitor, bringing us fair rates, local control, reliable service, sustainable and renewable energy sources. We will at last join the 55% of Washington and the rest of southwest Washington with public power and a new energy future.”