Could Californians Vote To End Investor-Owned Utilities?

It may be a long shot, but an initiative to replace the state’s three investor-owned utilities with a single, statewide public power district was just approved for signature-collecting by the California Secretary of State.

As Utility Dive reports, a new measure would establish the “California Electrical Utility District” (CEUD) to replace the three major investor-owned utilities (IOU), Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, and San Diego Gas & Electric. It would replace their corporate structures with an elected board of directors from 11 wards across the state — formerly IOU service territories.
So who’s backing it?

The initiative is led by Ben Davis, an anti-nuclear activist and former SMUD Rate Advisory Board member. He got an identical ballot proposal cleared for signature gathering in March, but did not get enough people to sign on before that proposal’s deadline was reached on Sep. 23.

This spring, Davis told Utility Dive the new entity would lower costs to electricity consumers and create other economic benefits by removing regulatory complexities and eliminating shareholder profit considerations.

Given the general public frustration with IOUs, in part from incidents like the San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion back in 2010, this initiative — if it qualifies — could have some legs. Of course, it would be a radical transformation that utilities would spend millions to defeat,  but it presents an interesting question for the state’s environmental goals: in a purely public power setup, what would it mean for the effort to increase renewable energy, energy storage, and energy efficiency efforts?

It’s not clear based on the proposed governance structure, but my guess is the initiative would help dramatically, given how investor-owned utilities have tried to strangle rooftop solar and have fought many of the major clean energy efforts.  Of course, it’s all conjecture.

But if the backers get 365,880 signatures by April 26th to qualify for the November ballot, we may actually find out.


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