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The Oregonian — Commentary

Leaving PGE in the hands of creditors is a bad joke

09/18/03

GREG PALAST

Is this some kind of joke? Is there any city or county on the planet today that would choose to put Enron in charge of their lights?

The parent company of Portland General Electric corrupted the power markets, flimflammed regulators, overcharged customers, wiped out employee pensions and collapsed into bankruptcy. And now, on the assumption there's a sucker born every minute, they want you to still love them.

Well, forget it, Enron. The only reason Portland's rates haven't gone through the roof so far is that state regulators have bridled, saddled and broken Enron -- and stalled, so far, its devious plans.

But now, with Enron busted, bankrupt and at the mercy of its creditors, a federal court will determine your energy future no matter what Enron promises. So you've got a choice: power controlled by the public -- you and your neighbors -- or power controlled by Enron's creditors.

Want to know what happens when the public takes over a private system? First, your bills go down. Every time. I'm writing this on Long Island, where the public recently booted out a private power company bigger than PGE. The outcome? Every Long Island customer got a $100 refund check plus a 12 percent cut in rates and a big boost in reliability.

That's right: People-owned systems rarely black out. Remember the California power crisis? The city-owned Los Angeles system kept the lights on -- and the prices way down. And the Great Northeast blackout this year? Public systems, from Niagara to Greenport, stayed lit. Why? Unlike privateers, the public systems don't profit from cutting service.

And check out the Columbia River Public Utility District, right next door to Multnomah County. Good service real cheap.

And that, Portland, is no joke.

Greg Palast is author of "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" and co-author of "Democracy and Regulation: The United Nations Guide to the Public Control of Public Services."

 

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