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Power panel points to water district

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet staff
Saturday May 05, 2001

Public power advocates spoke out Thursday evening at a forum hosted by Assemblymember Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley. 

“Many people would tell you that we’re not having an energy crisis, but a financial crisis,” Aroner told the 40 people gathered in the City Council chambers.  

Referring to the massive payments going from Pacific Gas & Electric to Texas-based power generators to purchase energy, she quipped: “There’s been a transfer of funds from California to Texas.” 

The solution? Public ownership of power. 

But not municipalization. 

Aroner is calling for a Public Utilities Commission study on the possibility of an East Bay Municipal Utility District takeover of PG&E’s power-generating facilities on the Mokelumne River in the Sierra’s. She is backing Sen. Don Perata’s SB1008 which would require the study. 

Panelists appeared to agree. Public take over of private power distribution may not be as complex as it may seem. One does not have to start at zero. 

“EBMUD’s authority (already) includes the possible sale of electricity,” said Doug Linney, a director on the water board, who represents Alameda, San Leandro and parts of Oakland. 

In fact, the approximately 80-year-old water district is already generating some of its own electricity needs at its Pardee and Commache facilities. It generates about $3-4 million of the $8 million in electricity it uses annually, said EBMUD spokesperson Charles Hardy, in a phone interview Friday. 

Panelist Cynthia Wooten, a citizen advocate for public power, also called for the water district to take over some of the generation and distribution of electric power.  

“The truth is, PG&E has betrayed us,” she said, noting that the publicly-owned utility already has a trained and unionized labor force, as well as bonding capacity. 

The water district also asserts that it can do better than PG&E. “EBMUD can provide more power at a lower price than private operators, while reducing demand in its own water and wastewater operations,” says an EBMUD brochure. “Because it does not have to share money earned from power generation with stockholders, EBMUD can pass the savings on to California alacrity consumers.” 

A resolution from the California Municipal Utilities Association is even stronger. It says, in part: “Publicly owned electric utilities are not operated on a profit basis. Their role has always been to provide reasonably-priced electricity and services valued by the communities they serve.” 

“If there’s the will, we can get this done,” panelist Wooten said.