Letter From Our ED—September 2006

Good intentions are fine, but when the CPUC and the energy companies they regulate start to talk about how they want to put those good intentions into action, watch your wallet!

TURN will keep this in mind when addressing proposals to curb greenhouse gas emissions, just as we have in our early and active support for renewable energy resources.

First, a quick movie review: if you haven’t yet seen An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary on global warming featuring Al Gore, I urge you to see it. Whatever your position on the issue, you’ll come away from the movie better informed. If you’re already convinced that global warming is one of the most critical issues our society faces, you’ll learn some new and disturbing facts and figures. If you’re at all dubious about the importance of global warming or threat it poses, you owe it to yourself and your neighbors to consider the impressive amounts of evidence assembled in the movie. And if you think of Al Gore as a wooden stiff who lost the presidency in 2000 because he couldn’t connect with people, the movie shows a warm, engaged and even funny man who delivers his message intelligently and passionately.

So why a plug for a movie in TURN’s newsletter? Because global warming is a central issue in California politics and policy-making today, and will remain so for years to come. A primary source of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” that contribute to global warming is electric generation. With two of the largest electric utilities in the country (PG&E and Edison) and a population that prioritizes the environment, California is ripe for an aggressive response to concerns about greenhouse gases.

At least some of that response will be paid for by customer-funded public purpose surcharges, surcharges on gas and electric bills that are already a huge burden to working Californians. So TURN wants to make sure that those programs get customers the maximum bang for their buck, rather than turn into gravy trains for greedy utility companies. It’s all too easy to imagine greenhouse gas or climate change programs that are ineffectual, or use customers’ money to polish the utility’s corporate image rather than create real change.

Pacific Gas & Electric has provided the first example, a “climate change tariff” proposal that would allow consumers to sign up to pay premium rates with the hope that PG&E will use the excess to purchase “offsets” to the greenhouse gases produced by utility service. The problem is that PG&E does not promise that the program will achieve any meaningful benefits. The only sure thing about the program is that all customers would be charged for its administrative and overhead costs.

Its great for PG&E, where the public relations department is already in overdrive promoting the ratepayer-funded program as evidence of its cleaner, greener nature. TURN wants more of consumer’s money spent on advancing program goals and less on PG&E’s marketing efforts.

Greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental considerations have become a key part of many CPUC decisions. As always, TURN is fighting for consumers’ dual interests in protecting both their wallets and the health of their state. But that’s not news–in recent years TURN has developed a proven track record in shaping policies that are good for both. Just look at our early and active support for renewable generation resources such as wind and geothermal power, and for cost-effective energy efficiency programs.

Californians’ concern for the environment makes our watchdog role especially crucial. The utilities won’t hesitate to ask for rate increases to pay for look-good but do-too-little programs. TURN must be there to make sure that money collected from our members and other residential and small business consumers is spent wisely and gets results.

Sincerely,

Executive Director
Bob Finkelstein