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Opponents Weaken Bill They Say Would Harm Consumer Choice for Electricity

Opponents of bill AB 2145, which they call "the Utility Monopoly Power Grab of 2014," are cheering this week after successfully weakening the bill in a Senate committee hearing on Monday.

Authored by Assemblymember, and former Southern California Edison Company executive Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), the bill, critics say, would have impeded the launch of any new not-for-profit community-based clean energy programs provided for by California’s Community Choice law (AB 117), passed in 2002.

The California Senate Energy Committee rejected a key poison pill provision in the current bill, which would have forced consumers to affirmatively declare their intention to buy power from a community choice power aggregator, instead of from a so-called investor-owned-utility, such as Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. Existing law opts residents into community choice power programs where available.

An analysis of the 2002 law, conducted in 2005 on behalf of the California Public Utilities Commission by researchers at The Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley, reported that consumers and communities stand to benefit from community choice, while investor-owned-utilities such as Pacific Gas and Electric, stand to lose “significant revenue.”

Marin and Sonoma counties already have community choice programs in place and other counties, including Alameda County are preparing to launch, or are exploring, such programs.

Some proponents of bill AB 2145 said they were trying to protect consumers from being "crammed" into switching to an alternative electricity buyer. Critics weren't buying that argument, however.

Speaking of the removal of the poison pill provision, Ann Hancock, Executive Director of the Climate Protection Campaign (which led the effort to launch Sonoma Clean Power) said, "This David vs. Goliath victory shows that regardless of how much money the utilities spend to undermine Community Choice, they continue to fail. We suggest that they invest in making sure their customers have a safe, efficient energy distribution system instead of fighting competition and choice.”

Eric Brooks, an advocate who has worked for the last ten years to launch San Francisco’s Community Choice program, CleanPowerSF, said “Now California can get back to the business of meeting our clean energy objectives on schedule, so that we can dramatically lower our greenhouse gas emissions and help to more rapidly reverse the climate crisis. The fossil fuel utilities need to heed this outcome and end their incessant attacks on Community Choice.”

Assemblymember Rob Bonta, who represents Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro for the 18th district voted in favor of bill AB 2145, seemingly in contradiction to his otherwise progressive bonafides.

Corrine Van Hook, communications and outreach manager for Bay Localize, an Oakland-based advocacy group opposed to the bill, told me that opponents are pushing to meet with Bonta to question his support.

Staffers from Bonta's office had not responded by a deadline today to answer questions about his vote.

Despite Monday's victory, opponents of AB 2145 say that the bill still contains onerous anti-competitive provisions that unfairly hamstring community choice programs by placing restrictions on them that are not required of the big investor-owned-utilities. For example, a new amendment to the bill would drastically limit the geographic size of community choice programs, when the monopolies have no such size restrictions.

Opponents are following the progress of the bill as it approaches the Senate Environmental Quality committee and will push for the removal of the remaining anti-competitive language.

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