Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation is participating in democracy!
PG&E Corp. plans to spend $25 million to $35 million on a California ballot initiative that would limit the ability of cities and counties to go into the public power business, the company reported Friday.
PG&E Corp. is the parent company of the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. utility, which is fighting efforts by Marin County and San Francisco to start their own power agencies. Proposition 16, on the June 8 ballot, would force any local governments that want to establish electrical service to win the approval of two-thirds of their voters first.
So far, PG&E has supplied all of the proposition campaign's funding, totaling $6.5 million. On Friday, PG&E took the unusual step of telling its investors that funding for the campaign would affect the company's 2010 profits, lowering them by 6 to 9 cents per share.
Now, some cynics might believe that PG&E is taking this hit to its bottom line for selfish reasons. In fact, they might even assume that if a corporation spends $25-$35 million to pass a ballot measure, it's solely because it believes it will accrue more than $25-$35 million in additional profits as a result in the future.
But it would be wrong to assume that in this case, because nothing could be further from the truth. Here's the real reason why PG&E is providing the sole backing for this ballot measure:
When local governments enter the retail electricity business, it can cost taxpayers millions or billions of dollars in public money or debt. These are risky long term capital decisions that can impact local spending on other budget priorities, can increase consumer electric rates, and cannot be easily reversed.
See? PG&E is just worried that these risky public power agencies would end up costing taxpayers more money, thus depriving them of important public services like, say, pillow-providing for the elderly or possibly adorable puppy-petting. And by the way, the quote above is from the web site of "Taxpayers Right to Vote"—the grassroots organization PG&E has just founded for the sole purpose of helping taxpayers retain their precious right to vote, which is apparently mortally threatened in some way by the creation of municipal power authorities. That's just how dedicated they are to democracy!
In fact, PG&E is so selflessly devoted to the common good that they're even planning to reduce electric rates this summer:
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is asking the California Public Utilities Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve proposals that would reduce average electric rates by 2.5 percent from March 1 levels, beginning June 1. The proposals are among a number of measures PG&E is taking to help customers with their electricity costs.
"We understand that electricity is a fundamental need, and know that many of our customers are deeply affected by job losses and the economic downturn," said Helen Burt, senior vice president and chief customer officer at PG&E. "While our customers work hard to conserve energy and pay their bills, at PG&E we are also working hard to help customers save."
You see? PG&E obviously just loves their customers, who are of course also taxpayers and (though it has nothing whatsoever to do with anything else mentioned here) voters. And in a gigantic and no doubt entirely unrelated coincidence, this rate reduction will happen on June 1st—one week before the June 8th election. Life's funny that way, isn't it?
Now, it's true that this reduction will basically just balance out a rate increase that PG&E has already scheduled for March 1st. And I don't doubt there are a few people out there so cynical that they might suspect that PG&E planned these offsetting rate changes in order to use the rate "decrease" to curry favor with voters right before the election, without affecting their bottom line.
And that's what's wrong with this country: too many people (like these nogoodniks) refuse to believe that corporations have only their best interests at heart. Thank goodness there are magnanimous corporate citizens like PG&E to prove them wrong.