The South San Joaquin Irrigation District is exploring its options in the wake of state legislation adopted to deal with wildfire issues related to for-profit utilities that has thrown up more hurdles to cross in its bid to force the sale of the retail distribution system PG&E operates in Manteca’s, Ripon, Escalon and the surrounding rural arears.
The legislation essentially requires additional steps at the California Public Utilities Commission level.
SSJID General Manager Peter Rietkerk confirmed the board is exploring options including presenting a legal argument that since its bid to become a non-profit utility provider predated by a number of years the legislation passed last month that the new rules should not apply to SSJID. The SSJID effort has been tied up in courts for several years after getting needed approvals at the CPUC and the San Joaquin County Local Agency Formation Commission.
The City of San Francisco finds itself in a similar situation due to the new laws as they are actively trying to takeover retail service in their city.
The SSJID has also been pondering making another offer to buy the local PG&E system but instead of submitting it to PG&E that rejected it several years to present it in bankruptcy court as a way PG&E can meet some of their $30 billion in financial liabilities that are primarily the result of the Butte County fire in November. PG&E has conceded their faulty, unmaintained and aging equipment likely started the fire that killed 85 people, destroyed 14,000 homes, and burned 5,000 other structures.
Assembly Bill 1054 amendments expanded the CPUC’s authority and review over municipalization efforts and adds additional barriers to entry for local agencies and communities seeking to provide their own retail electric service. That was not the intent of the original bill. The amendment hinders SSJID’s Retail Electric Project by imposing additional processes and additional requirements that would dilute the public benefits of the project for local residents.
Specifically AB 1054 amendments Section 854 of the Public Utilities Code to expand the jurisdiction of the CPUC review over local government municipalization efforts of an IOU territory, and removes decision making authority regarding labor for the successor local government utility. Local government employee benefits are governed by rights to collective bargaining and approval by local agency governing boards or councils. The proposed amendments to AB 1054 would circumvent local government rights in municipalization efforts to structure their own utility and collectively bargain with its workforce. Furthermore, the language presumes that the predecessor employer’s conditions and values are identical to those of the successor local government utility and it would preclude local job creation by potentially forcing the transfer of employees that do not live and work in local jurisdictions.
The SSJID has formerly been working for more than a decade to exercise the right granted irrigation districts in the California constitution to be a retail power provider and exercise its eminent domain authority if need be to accomplish that goal.
The SSJID plan would lower retail power costs in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon by at least 15 percent while upgrading the system and putting in place local control.
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