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Is PG&E making a mockery of California Senate Bill 790?

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PM1California Senate Bill 790 (SB 790) bans utility companies from using ratepayer funds for negative publicity campaigns against local community utilities ( community choice aggregators, or CCA). They are now required to file the details of any anti-CCA marketing with the California Public Utilities Commission. Only PG&E has not filed in the case of AB 2145 (popularly known as the “Monopoly Protection Act” ) because the marketing is being done by associated third parties. Doesn’t this make a mockery of California Senate Bill 790?

SB 790 was framed in response to to the $46 million Pacific Gas & Electric’s spent promoting anti-CCA legislation in 2010.

If  Proposition 16 had not been defeated, California’s first CCA might not have come into being.

A second CCA was launched this year and there are a number on the verge of starting up.

Now third parties associated with PG&E are actively promoting anti-CCA legislation.

On February 20, 2014, Assemblyman Stephen Bradford – a former Southern California Edison executive and one of the primary recipients of PG&E’s political contributions –  introduced AB 2145.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 is also promoting AB 2145. I put a screenshot from their website at the top of this page. Note the title of the article being displayed, “AB 2145 would protect electric as customer choice.”

PG&E is prominently displayed in the list of categories below that. Clicking on that link, you will find a list of articles dealing with PG&E’s affairs.

Screenshot from the PGE page on the IBEW website
Screenshot of top of PGE News page on the IBEW website (Click on image to expand)

As it explains on the website, “IBEW Local 1245 represents about 12,000 PG&E employees.” Their association goes back to 1905 and, as becomes quickly obvious perusing the site, the IBEW  aggressively promotes PG&E’s interests.

One of the articles on this site describes the union’s “campaign school” for an upcoming election.

“These politicians are the people who ultimately make the decisions about laws that impact your working conditions, wages and benefits,” said IBEW 1245 Business Rep Hunter Stern as he underscored the importance of electing politicians who will stand up for working families.

“There are lots of places where it’s tough for labor-friendly candidates to get elected, and knocking on doors can be difficult and tiring. But we do it for the well-being of our members, our communities and the people we serve. We need these local boards, Irrigation Districts and City Councils to represent us and actually do the people’s work,” Stern said.

Stern is the union member who the PACIFIC SUN recently reported emailing Marlin County residents to promote AB 2145.

On a hunch, I googled Stern’s name along with Proposition 16. This brought up 2010 articles from the Santa Cruz Sentinel and Culver City News. This quote, in support of Prop 16, is from the latter:

“In tough economic times like these, local voters have every right to have the final say on an issue as important as who provides them with local electric service and how much it will cost,” Teresa Casazza and Hunter Stern of the California Taxpayers Association and the Green Jobs Coalition, respectively, said in a joint statement.

The next two paragraphs describe the opposition to PG&E’s $46 million campaign:

While there is no declared formal opposition against Proposition 16, several municipalities, newspaper editorial boards and consumer organizations have denounced it. More than 20 public utilities and local governments have issued positions against Proposition 16.

“The most important thing to remember about Proposition 16 is that it was written and bankrolled by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for the benefit of PG& E,” Los Angeles Times political columnist George Skelton wrote in his Capitol Journal last month.

Another search brought me to a Facebook page where IBEW’s business manager wrote an article called “We support Proposition 16.” There is a link to the union’s website, but the page is no longer extant.

Screenshot from the "Taxpayers Right to Vote Website"
Screenshot from the “Taxpayers Right to Vote” Website

There are numerous articles about the union’s recent campaigns and Stern’s name is often found in them.

One mentions Hunter Stern addressing retired union workers about the soon to be launched Sonoma Clean Power Authority.

Another describes how IBEW Local 1245 members showed up at a San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) meeting to denounce CleanPowerSF. Hunter Stern spoke to local reporters, denouncing the CCA’s contract with Shell oil.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano replied to an opinion column Stern wrote for the San Francisco Examiner,

“It’s the sort of thing you might have thought came from PG&E. Stern represents the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 which, though he didn’t mention it, represents PG&E workers.

“Stern’s mistakes — let’s call them mistakes — begin in his very first paragraph, where he says the SFPUC “appropriately rejected” a contract with Shell Energy. That is wrong. The SFPUC already has approved a framework for working with Shell Energy. What the SFPUC dropped the ball on was setting rates for CleanPowerSF, which would allow the process to go forward as originally intended. Not doing so is a convenient way to try to monkey-wrench a program that San Franciscans badly want and the Board of Supervisors approved. And that the environment needs.”

CleanPowerSF was something I worked to create when I was on the Board of Supervisors, before San Franciscans elected me to represent them in Sacramento.”

It is still not certain whether CleanPowerSF will go forward. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee is contemplating withdrawing the $19 million set aside for this project; Supervisor John Avalos told the San Francisco Bay View he is confident the project will go forward.

Screen SHot from IBEW Local 1245 website
Screen Shot of article gloating over IBEW activities against CleanPowerSF on Local 1245 website (Click to expand)

After Stern defamed Marin Clean Energy (MCE), the local newspaper interviewed MCE Executive Officer Dawn Weisz:

Stern’s email emphasizes that Marin Clean Energy purchases some of the electricity that it sells its customers from Shell Energy. The email begins with this statement, “We have breaking news out of Sacramento — a coalition opposed to allowing Shell Oil to take over California’s power supply has introduced a bill (AB 2145) that would stop Shell from automatically enrolling everyone in San Francisco and other municipalities outside Marin in Shell’s Marin energy program.”

Weisz, however, said that “‘Shell Oil,’ or Shell Energy of North America, as it is more accurately known, does not manage a community choice aggregation program, nor does it have the authority to interact with any MCE customers, much less automatically enroll them.”

The email suggests that Marin Clean Energy’s electricity is actually dirtier than the electricity sold by PG&E. It states, “According to documents filed with the California Energy Commission last year, the power Marin buys from Shell is 23 percent emission-free, which sounds good until you consider that the old energy mix Shell replaced was 62 percent emission-free. We can’t sit back and let them call the power ‘clean’ when it’s much dirtier.”

Weisz said, “The statement implies that Shell Energy is MCE’s only provider of electricity. MCE has 24 power supply agreements with 12 different energy suppliers, one of which is Shell Energy of North America.”
What’s clean?

According to the California Energy Commission, Marin Clean Energy’s power sources are 60 percent emission-free, while PG&E’s power sources are 51 percent emission-free. The gap between Marin Clean Energy and PG&E is much larger when it comes to renewable energy sources because PG&E’s nuclear and hydroelectric power sources don’t qualify under state regulations as renewable.

Weisz said Marin Clean Energy’s use of Shell Energy power is a stop-gap measure until the authority can develop more of its own renewable energy sources.

Stern was also interviewed for that story, but refused to explain why he wrote the email.

He does not have to explain. His history of campaigning against CCAs, on PG&E’s behalf, speaks for itself.

This raises the question of PG&E not filed a marketing plan with the CPUC. PG&E does not believe this is necessary because it is not actively campaigning against CCAs. The anti-CCA campaign is being waged by associated third parties like Hunter Stern and IBEW Local 1245. The extent to which PG&E is, or is not, manipulating events is not known. It is not known whether PG&E is providing any (ratepayer) funding.

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