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Common Sense group funded by PG&E casts doubt on SSJID power plan

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POSTED March 9, 2012 12:55 a.m.

Brian Regnart’s concerns with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District aren’t personal.

In fact, according to the Common Sense San Joaquin Executive Director, all of his dealings with the staff and the board members at the 102-year-old agency have been pleasant and respectful. He attends all of their meetings.

He just doesn’t believe that the organization’s attempt at taking over PG&E’s power distribution network for Manteca, Ripon and Escalon is a good idea – citing a handful of independent reports and studies commissioned by PG&E that he feels point the opposite direction of what SSJID is promising in terms of rate reductions.

Thursday night Regnart got the chance to lay out his platform at the twice-monthly meeting of the Manteca Tea Party Patriots at Chez Shari. It was a rebuttal to the presentation made last month by SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields. He connected a line of dots that he says casts enough doubt to call the supposed benefits of the hostile takeover into question.

The evidence, Regnart says, is buried in the details and the paper trail – citing changes that SSJID has made to their approach, their response to independent reports that didn’t paint their original plan in a flattering light and tweaks to the overall strategy that deviate from what was originally mapped out.

“One of the things that I have done as the executive director is talk to a lot of people – some of them that agree with our platform and some of them that don’t,” Regnart said. “There are a lot of people out there that do want to save money, but they don’t want to do so by having to spend a whole lot of it up front. I just don’t think that SSJID is going to be able to honor the promises that they’ve made to the community.

“I know that they’re coming from a good place, but we need to know as a community that it’s going to work.”

Central to Regnart’s presentation Thursday was SSJID’s response to the AP Consultants report that preliminarily valued the distribution network at just over $250 million – nearly four times the $65 million that the district petitioned as its value. A secondary report that came out by the same independent firm, he said, showed that in order for SSJID to offer the 15 percent rate reduction they’re promising they’ll need to provide an influx of cash from Tri-Dam receipts totaling $15 million – a far cry from the $1.6 million they said would do the trick.

The SSJID has gone on record committing the cash to make the plan work. The irrigation district has almost $70 million in reserves from its share of Tri-Dam Project receipts.

And when PG&E hired Raftelis Financial Consultants to conduct a study evaluating the fallout and the impact that a failed takeover would have on the district’s initial business of supplying water – a report that said that water rates would likely see a sharp increase to compensate – Regnart said that the writing began to appear on the wall.

“I have a lot of respect for the Board Members over at SSJID and I have a lot of respect for the staff. They’re always very pleasant to me and I don’t want to criticize their organization,” he said. “It’s their plan that I have an issue with.”

Common Sense San Joaquin is funded virtually 100 percent by PG&E. A PG&E report filed with state regulators indicates they poured $908,624 into Common Sense San Joaquin in 2010 alone.

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