Dime a dozen
The ballots for the special election on the proposed public utility district (PUD) here in Multnomah County go out in the mail next week. They're due back on November 4. Today's the deadline to register to vote in this interesting election. Information on how to do that can be found here.
By now voters have heard a lot about the stakes in this one: Should the electric power business in Portland be taken away from the private utilities that currently run it -- Portland General Electric and Pacific Power -- and turned over to a new public entity? The new entity, a PUD, wouldn't have private shareholders; it would be an autonomous government agency that buys and sells power all of the public in its service area.
Proponents of the PUD say it will take the energy business out of the hands of greedy corporate pigs like Enron (the parent company of PGE) and put it into the hands of the people, where it belongs. They point out that PUDs operate successfully in many other places in the West, including Los Angeles and much of the State of Washington.
Opponents of the PUD charge that it will create a new layer of government bureaucracy, increase local taxes, and subject electric ratepayers to large increases in their power costs. They also point out that the people who would be running the PUD would be rookies who won't have a clue how to insure the PUD's survival in the cut-throat, deregulated, freewheeling jungle of energy trading.
As I've mentioned here before, I'm inclined to vote no on the PUD. Although Enron is evil, PGE isn't necessarily, and I don't get my power from PGE anyway. The monopoly in my part of town is operated by Pacific Power, and they do a great job. Their new owners in Scotland haven't, to my knowledge, engaged in any of the hanky-panky that got Enron and its various constituencies in so much trouble. So I'm not interested in losing them as my power company. Plus, given the disaster that the City of Portland has made out of the water business, I'll take a regulated utility over a local government for my basic services any day.
A look at the Voter's Pamphlet for the upcoming election solidifies my position. Even if I were to buy into the public power concept, I'm looking at the 12 people who are running for the five-member PUD board of directors that would run electricity in Portland if the PUD passes. And I can't believe that any combination of five of them would have the faintest idea of what the heck they are doing.
We have (1) a PGE lineman; (2) a "self-employed" candidate (no occupation revealed); (3) a congressional staffer; (4) the editor of the local left-wing newspaper; (5) a dyed-in-the-wool political hack who seems to run for every available office; (6) an environmental "consultant"; (7) the chief of a peacenik nonprofit group; (8) a "math tutor"; (9) the administrator of a soil and water conservation district; (10) a retired school teacher; (11) a "land management consultant"; and (12) an unemployed engineer. Ten of them are pictured above; two didn't bother to send in a picture in time for publication in the pamphlet.
See anybody there who's qualified to run an electric company? I don't.
And then there are the ideas they're floating. One guy wants to set customers' rates "based on ability to pay." Another stuns us with the revelation that "[a]s a member of the PUD Board, it will be my duty to see that the PUD delivers a continuous flow of electricity to the customers / rate / tax payers of the PUD." One says he understands "the botton line," although he apparently can't run a spell-checker. Still another notes that he kept tuition down when he was on the community college board. And another lets us know that he's hosted an environmental radio show on KBOO radio for 13 years, and that this demonstrates his "strength in environmental issues."
Several of the candidates say they will stop the PUD from taking over Pacific Power; they'll limit the takeover to PGE. The rest are noncommittal on the subject.
The one glimmer of common sense in the campaign statements comes from candidate Tom Markgraf, an aide to Rep. Earl (the Pearl) Blumenauer, who points out: "This isn't like buying a coffee cart. You need highly experienced people to manage an electric utility."
And alas, this slate doesn't even come close to filling that bill.
Of course, if the PUD is defeated at the polls, the twisted logicians at Portland City Hall will redouble their own efforts (around $1 million spent so far, and counting) to have the city buy PGE. And don't worry, everybody, Erik Sten's in charge of that one.