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March 2001

When The Lights Go Off, Californians Get Sexual


The Electricity Crisis: Day sixty-nine, or so. Oh yeah, it's kind of sexual what the electric companies are doing to us all right, but hardly pleasurable. I don't care how much it hurts, most Californians say, just keep us plugged in.

We are so hooked into the electric grid that only the lonely eccentric even attempts to get off it. Sure, they feel smug now, but it cost them plenty. Alternative sources of electricity tend to be pricey for individuals, more workable for communities. In individualistic Marin most of us are at the mercy of PG$E to keep the lights on. There's no mercy there.

Power lines snaking everywhere pour a buzzing lisp of magical energy into our boxes. This juice has transformed our cottages into palaces, warm, brightly lit and engaged with all the latest technology. Unless we stick a knife in a toaster or it burns down the house we never question it, just flip the switches and suck off the invisible power our lifestyles require. We know it's explainable by science somehow. Ben Franklin got this whole thing started flying a kite in the lightning storm, right? Thor In The Thaddle

Commercial and industrial users are even more locked into running on full bore, but during the blitzkrieg deregulation hearings in 1996 they had their own lobbyists, with the foresight and buying power to keep their rates lower than consumer and small business rates. Consumers were not represented by our legislators when they guaranteed we would pay for electricity at the highest prices.

The legislation passed by Sacramento was mostly written by an aide to D San Diego legislator Steve Peace. The aide now has a great job with the power companies. The deregulation giveaway let utilities bleed the taxpayers $30 billion for their “stranded assets,” mostly aging nuclear power plants and other enormous mistakes. It looks like another bloodletting with the current plan.

Five years ago PG$E, San Diego Electric and Southern Edison were very happy with the deal made. After all they'd paid good money for the legislation, chipping in $5 million or so to legislators to make $40-50 billion so far with more to come.

It was still so good for them in 1998 that they paid more millions for election propaganda and public naysayers to defeat Proposition 9, a referendum to kill the giveaway. Davis, many politicians and “public” interest groups joined in the No on 9 chorus then. Yes, they managed to convince Californians to ream themselves, but only to keep the relationship going.

As the crown jewel of deregulation Sacramento also set up a fubared bidding system which pegged prices paid for power to the highest bid. It seemed stupid, but was perfectly designed to drive up prices for power. They succeeded so well that supposedly invincible utilities which had huge profits locked in by law are now threatening to go bankrupt and shut off the lights. Since then the price of natural gas has tripled, many power plants are offline for various reasons and their sado-masochistic bidding system, the Power Exchange, let power generators collude to make a killing. The price of electricity the three utility companies buy now costs more than their fat deal guaranteed them.

During this crisis the federal court let the parent corporations shelter their assets from the debts of their corporate children, the ones that send the bills and operate the transmission and distribution of electricity and gas.

Just last summer these kids gave their parents a spare $7 billion they didn't need; now they can't pay their suppliers. The Mama and Papa PG$E and Edison corporations were also enabled by deregulation to sell off most of their power generating stations for another $20 billion. With those profits and their kids' piggy banks they bought other power generating companies and investment companies. These subsidiaries have since been profiteering on their elder sibling companies and Californians. Foaming At The Mouth

Meanwhile Gray Davis in Sacramento has been trying to act presidential with rolling blackouts. No different than the last California governor who became president. Bush has offered Baked Alaska for his oil company supporters in celebration of our crisis. If being a corporate toad licker is looking presidential, then “Gray Not Gore in ‘04” may mar some future bumpers. Otherwise he's toast.

Gray's first menu for the dining pleasure of the power companies he serves was a golden braised pork roast $10 billion bailout plan for the orphaned power companies. The state would accept chits or stock options in payment. What a giveaway Gray, you corporate slut, you're worth the $70 grand they've paid you! Just because their hot little hands are on the light switches, while they threatened to end your campaign partying. This is what we get for voting for the lesser of two evils. Democratic sweet nothings while we're being shucked. Giant Thucking Thounds

The power companies can still afford lawyers to sue to break the contracts they wrote when they expected to overcharge consumers for years. They've already won a temporary 10% rate increase, which will become permanent and they want another soon for consumers, because we are the easiest sheep to shear.

They are not breaking their contracts with industrial and large, commercial users. They use 80% of California's power and pay lower rates than consumers, but they have lawyers and bankers too.

Consumers will just pay more, we always have. What choice do Californians have with Sacramento corporate chefs in charge? They won't craft real changes in the generation, distribution and consumption of electricity or vote for the funds and legislation to truly conserve with retrofitting and redesign.

The legislators are eager to save the utilities with our billions instead of seizing all their assets and turning them over to local power districts. They could create a model based on the innovative, well run and 30% cheaper Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which keep their lights on.

Instead of a total giveaway Democratic state senator John Burton of SF and Marin demanded that the state at least grab some assets for their $10 billion and counting bailout, not just potentially worthless stock. He wants the state to buy 30,000 miles of power lines and poles needing a billion in upgrades and maintenance over the next five years. Davis said OK if we pay three times what they're worth. Other democrats demanded conservation of 100,000 acres of forestland around the 100 hydroelectric generators the power companies still own, but these lily livered legislators won't demand the actual property. They are ignoring the most valuable asset, the connecting distribution system which links the main transmission lines with residences and businesses after damping down the voltage. This segment of the bankrupt utilities has the highest profit margin and potential.

The legislators are serving up a trussed pork bill that lets the utilities keep their most valuable assets while the state owns and pays for the high maintenance of the power transmission grid. The state and utilities will lie down together in a bed of greens.

Monopoly Money

A case could easily be made that over their reign these California power companies, the Papas, Mamas and little Bears have already strip-mined the mother lode of California consumers. They've been allowed by law to bill consumers at rates thirty percent higher than community run utility districts. In return they have left a series of toxic turns in their wake. They got $30 billion debt from their pigheaded nuclear mistakes and other environmental disasters forgiven, gained another $20 or $30 billion from the deregulation selloff, and now Gray's Giveaway of $10 billion and counting. They're a family of criminals and should be put in Pelican Bay with Arian dog breeders for cellmates for plundering the community wealth.

Instead of taking these pirates to court like Erin Brockabitch and getting it all back with interest and triple damages for conspiracy, Gray Davis and Sacramento act like an abused domestic partner who won't press charges.

The public doesn't really trust the state to prove power for good reason. The citizens might be angry enough now to pass a referendum to seize all the assets by eminent domain and turn them over to elected, local entities. Davis is trying to head this off at the pass with his plan.

If legislators did their job they would pass similar legislation. If they included funding for conservation, alternative energy generation on a community level and research and development, Californians could cut the power companies and Sacramento porkers completely out of the pie.

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