Published in the Portland Tribune on 10/24/2003
Take the power back, or pay the price
By TOM CIVILETTI
The election to form a People's Utility District (PUD) in Multnomah County is all about money -- our money. The rates that residents and businesses are paying Portland General Electric are the highest of any but the tiniest utility in the Northwest -- and are higher than those of every PUD in Oregon.
And those rates are likely to explode in the near future because of PGE's unstable situation. PGE is owned -- lock, stock and power pole -- by Enron. Enron is bankrupt. Its future is controlled by its major creditors, huge New York investment banks that want the billions owed them. What we pay for electricity and the health of the local economy are of little concern to them.
While PGE and some government officials tell us not to worry, the legal and financial situation suggests that we have plenty to worry about. PGE management has no say in the Enron reorganization outcome. Enron's creditors hold the power.
A number of law school professors agree that Enron's reorganization plan allows PGE's assets to be sold piecemeal. A 2002 federal court decision established that state regulators (such as Oregon's Public Utility Commission) cannot stop the dismemberment of utility assets in bankruptcy sales.
Enron's creditors stand
to gain $2 billion more if PGE's power generation and transmission assets
are sold to unregulated owners. Ratepayers
will lose their $1.8 billion investment
in PGE's assets and will have to pay to replace all of these facilities at much
PGE paid $10 in state income taxes in 2002 -- more than the zero it has paid in all other years since Enron took over. This year PGE was reintegrated into Enron for tax purposes. (So much for the assertion that PGE is on the road to independence from Enron.) From now on, PGE and Enron will pay zero in income taxes. Enron will keep all the millions that PGE sends it.
It's easy to see why Enron rejected bids for PGE from Northwest Natural and from the city of Portland. Why take $2.2 billion when you can get $4.5 billion by dismembering the utility and causing its rates to skyrocket?
Enron and its creditors are just waiting for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to approve the Enron Plan of Reorganization, which could occur this year or early in 2004. Then they can proceed to sell off to unregulated companies all of PGE except the wires, poles and the dead hulk of Trojan (and its pool of high-level radioactive waste). The state of Oregon will have no power to stop the breakup.
But we can stop Enron's plan by creating a PUD with the power of eminent domain. The PUD can buy PGE's assets at a reasonable price, preventing the dismemberment that would cost ratepayers so dearly.
This is what Multnomah County voters must now decide. The other counties served by PGE will hold PUD elections next year.
All of Oregon's PUDs have lower rates than PGE, while providing highly reliable service and contributing to energy conservation, development of renewable resources and assistance to low-income customers.
Educate yourself about public versus Enron ownership. Read the Voters' Pamphlet. Visit www.cheappower.org on the Web for supporting documentation.
Vote yes for the PUD (Measure 26-51) and for the supporting levy (Measure 26-52), which is equal to a one-time payment of 30 cents on a $100,000 house (despite the language on the ballot that the U.S. District Court of Oregon has now found to be "patently false" and "profoundly misleading").
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