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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

PG&E Spends $9 Million on anti-SMUD Campaign

The numbers are staggering… According to the Sacramento Bee:
“Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has poured $9.4 million into an aggressive campaign to retain Yolo County customers, spending $21 for every dollar spent by supporters of a Sacramento Municipal Utility District expansion.”
Yolo County officials who never agree on anything are near unanimous in their support for SMUD. That includes people like Mariko Yamada, County Supervisor, Sue Greenwald, Davis Mayor and on the other side Council members Don Saylor, Steve Souza, and Ruth Asmundson. All of these officials support SMUD.

The draw is that SMUD presents about 30 percent-lower average rates. These rates help the cities better maintain their budgets. It helps the school district’s lower costs. And it helps the consumer save on their electricity bill.

Everyone wins except for PG&E. How much are they set to lose? Well enough so that they can spend $9 million without blinking.

As many people in Yolo County have suggested—perhaps had PG&E put their money and efforts into improving their system and their customer service, the ratepayers in Yolo County would not be revolting.

I’m a strong supporter of local business. I’m a stronger supporter that small business provides better services. And finally, in this day and age, I’m a strong supporter of competition. When a company like PG&E operates with a natural monopoly, they have no competition.

This is probably the first time they’ve ever had to compete to keep customers. Because if “I” don’t like them, I can sit in the dark or install a windmill in my backyard and solar panels on the roof. Neither of which are really feasible options.

Now suddenly they have to fight for their customers. Instead of trying to win us over with promises of improvement and rate reduction, they are using their vast wealth that they’ve acquired from us to scare us into sticking with an inferior system. Unlike other political campaigns—everyone knows about PG&E, everyone knows about the services they provide, and they aren’t going to fool anyone with $9 million or even $90 million.

That said, I don’t think SMUD is running a very good campaign. I’ve heard complaints that the spokesperson was very bad at community forums and that Stephen Souza wasn’t very helpful. Why is Stephen Souza the point person on this? It should be someone like Mariko Yamada.

In the meantime, anyone driving by the PG&E plant on L and 2nd in Davis might notice the rather large NO on H and I signs, I could be wrong, but aren’t signs of that size, not allowed in the city limits? Why has no one challenged them?

As I said yesterday on Target, you have a choice. If you like your current rates and the current system, stick with PG&E. If you believe the scare tactics that SMUD is overreaching and this will cripple SMUD, then again, vote for PG&E. Personally, I can not think of many companies in this country that I dislike more than PG&E and I am willing to take the chance on SMUD.

Regardless of these issues, Yolo County deserves better than to be foisted a smear campaign that will cost well over $10 million by the time it is over.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting