Had Proposition 16 passed, the creation of a municipal utility, such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) would have required a super majority. Although PG&E claimed it supported the measure to prevent consumers from being burdened by local governments spending money on new energy projects, opponents of the measure said the utility was really just trying prevent competition and looking to hinder the incorporation of solar, wind, and other possible renewable energy forms.
The measure’s failure is a major victory for its opponents, including the Sierra Club, the AARP, and the city of Palo Alto, California, which tapped into voters’ suspicions over PG&E’s motives. Opponents of the Proposition managed to defeat the measure despite only raising $90,000. Being on the ballot for the primary election – a precursor to the mid-term elections in November – assured that the proposition would be decided by a minority of voters. Early estimates indicated less than 30 percent of registered California voters. The statewide vote was relatively close – 52 percent to 48 percent but in areas serviced by PG&E the Propositioned received a smaller percentage.
Mindy Spatt of The Utility Reform Network advocacy group notes, “The message from customers is: We don’t like the way you are spending our money. PG&E is shooting itself in the foot all over the state. Their smart meter program is a disaster, and they just flushed $46 million. What a colossal waste of money.”
The defeat reflects public dissatisfaction with PG&E over smart meter-related rate hikes, which in turn has affected public opinion of smart meter technology itself. On the other hand, the vote could also usher in a wave of energy and grid innovation from PG&E. The vote means it will be easier for competing municipal utilities to be established. That in turn may force PG&E to more aggressively develop renewable energy sources and improve services and consumer relations.
San Francisco-based PG&E is the largest utility in the United States and has worked diligently to rebrand itself after years of terrible publicity including its fight with environmentalists over the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and its portrayal in the movie Erin Brockovich as the soulless company contaminating ground water that poisoned people of a small town. Currently, the company has positioned itself as pro-environment and has supported climate change legislation.