South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Jeff Shields has been selected to serve on the state’s foremost consumer advocacy board when it comes to protecting the interests of electrical and natural gas customers in California.
The San Francisco-based The Utility Reform Network (TURN) has successfully challenged California Public Utilities decisions that have saved consumers billions of dollars. TURN is also considered the leading non-government watchdog of PG&E and other major utilities in California. They keep a close eye on CPUC decisions that impact the cost, quality of service, and safety of energy companies, railroads, moving companies, passenger carriers, water utilities, and operators of in-state pipelines.
Shields noted his bosses on the SSJID board support him serving with the TURN organization.
“It fits right in with their philosophy of making sure consumers get the least expensive and best servcie possible,” Shields said.
The SSJID board has spent money successfully challenging PG&E rate increases over the past few years including the current $1 billion rate hike - the largest ever asked by the for-profit utility - that is now in settlement negotiations. Most of the challenges deal with agricultural charges but in the latest bid to make sure the PG&E rate hike request isn’t excessive they have financed the hiring of experts to scrutinize all aspects of the general rate increase.
Shields have more than 30 years experience working for publically owned utilities and irrigation districts.
He is the point man for the SSJIUD’s board to enter the retail power business within its boundaries to deliver electricity across the board to customers in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon at 15 percent below PG&E rates. SSJID is doing that by harnessing the proceeds of Tri-Dam that an independent power industry consultant recommended by PG&E determined will generate $18 million a year to make that possible. SSJID has already squirreled away more than $70 million to finance the purchase and obtain bonds as well as upgrade the current system serving the three communities and the surrounding farmland. The consultant has indicated $15 million a year - that SSJID will take from the Tri-Dam profits - is enough for SSJID to assure the 15 percent reduction in rates.
The San Joaquin County Local Agency Formation Commission which asked for the independent consultant study is expected to make a decision this summer on whether SSJID can enter the retail electricity business.
Shields was executive director of the Trinity County Local Agency Formation Commission in 1984 when the Trinity Public Utilities District was formed in a bid to provide that community with lower power rates to avoid losing a sawmill that was the county’s biggest employer. In 1985 Shields was hired to lead the Trinity PUD. He noted as of six years ago Trinity PUD had not needed a rate increase as power costs to customers stayed unchanged for 20 years. That was the first time Shields successfully led an effort to takeover PG&E territory and reduce rates to local customers.
He was also instrumental in setting up a similar public utilities district in Lassen County.
Shields also worked a number of years for the Oregon-based Pacific Gas Electric Co. He also worked for a short time for Enron. He departed Enron when he became troubled by some questionable practices that he reported to regulators. He also was on the initial witness list for the government’s case against Enron executive Kenneth Lay who was successfully prosecuted for corporate fraud and corruption.
Shields is no stranger to tangling with PG&E.
Shields’s SSJID computer was hacked by of an operative of a firm PG&E hired in 2007 to try to derail the local district’s bid to enter the retail power business. The operative hacked into the computer while he sat in the back of a SSJID board meeting that took place at district headquarters in Manteca. The firm hired by PG&E tried to argue that they were simply accessing public documents since it was easy to get through the district’s security. The incident was investigated by the FBI.
PG&E paid SSJID close to $300,000 to cover its legal costs and other expenses associated with trying to make sure other computers weren’t compromised. In the settlement, PG&E said it was paying for the costs but admitting no wrong doing.
The documents that were downloaded contained confidential information about the SSJID’s efforts to acquire the PG&E system in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon.