PGE Hearings in Portland
The hearings held in Portland on the proposed sale of PGE to NW Natural were well attended, although many never got to speak. We were told there will be another public hearing to hear those who did not have time to testify.
Well over 150 people showed up in the crowded Midland Library for the public hearings, and over 40 people signed up to testify. The meeting started a half hour late because one of the commissioners, Joan something-or-other was a half hour late. The library closes at 9PM and we were told over a couple dozen people still hadn't testified to the Public Utility Commission when the meeting was brought to a close. Administrative law judge Michael Grant was facilitating. In April Mr. Grant will preside over hearings to approve transactions involving sale of PGE to NW Natural, the only company that has proposed to buy PGE.
Susan Ackerman, NW Natural regulatory affairs manager said that there will be financial benefits to customers, from this proposed sale of PGE. She says there will be lower rates because both companies won't have to duplicate efforts, that both NW natural and PGE now do much the same thing. She "thinks there will be over 31 1/2 million in rate credits over 6 years", and that she thinks around 30 million a year in cost reductions will make it back to customers... eventually....
Mark Hellman, part of the PUC staff team of analysts, is looking at the cost of service, financing of this sale, realizing that bank loans will increase the debt the buying company takes on, which strains cash flow, and that NW Natural is retaining cost savings through 2008. This team is looking at the relationship between both companies, the level of rate credits, the net benefits to customers, and what conditions can be required to provide protection to PGE customers. In late March these results will come out, in time for the April hearings.
Around 4 people spoke in favor of the sale of PGE to NW Natural, stating the good record that NW Natural has of serving customers for nearly a century as their reasoning. The overwhelming majority of speakers spoke out against this sale. There were various reasons cited, and some new information came out, that there are documents that are sealed that Enron has submitted to the PUC that are never going to be seen by the public. It turns out that the PUC has policies in place that could allow them to refuse to accept sealed documents and that they have not exercised this procedure in this case, so there are documents being considered that will never be seen by the public.
It was also asked that the chair of the PUC commission recuse himself from participating in these hearings due to his conflict of interest, being an Independent Consultant to PGE from 1986-1994. He served as PGE's lead lawyer in the 1992 case to close down the Trojan Nuclear Power plant. Mr Beyer was also asked by many, beginning with Dan Meek, to recuse himself because he too has a conflict of interest, receiving thousands of dollars from PGE and NW Natural Gas, during his '94 and '98 campaigns. It was stressed by Lloyd Marbet that campaign finance reform would have eliminated this problem, and that Campaign Finance Reform is needed to stop these deals from happening in the future, and he urged people to collect signatures and sign the petitions for campaign finance reform in time to get this initiative on the ballot this July.
Many speakers spoke, among them, Larry Tuttle, pointing out that any holding company created by NW Natural would carry a debt load that would be passed on to consumers, and that this proposed NW holding company has to put real money against real debt. Dan Meek spoke of some conditions that must be imposed, which are within PUC's customary powers, if the State Power Authority is not activated, and this sale is approved, including the following: The surviving company must commit itself to an exhaustive investigation of all possible impacts to ratepayers. If any part results in triggering parachutes causing compensations to be paid, these compensations must be borne solely by shareholders, and in no way by ratepayers. And that a special reserve account should be set aside, equal in all tax years for the amount of taxes that Enron hasn't paid, and that PGE be ordered to discontinue all such payments. Lloyd Marbet, Dan Meek and many others urged the PUC to push the legislature to activate a State Power Authority by the power vested in them in Article 11-D of the Oregon Constitution, an amendment that was put forth in 1932, designed to protect the interests of Oregonians, by keeping the energy utilities in the hands of the people. Failing that, that Portland City Council be urged by the PUC to put PGE into public ownership as a Public Utility District, or that citizens be allowed to do so. Lisa Mellyan, Tualatin Valley Water District Commissioner, also asked the PUC to postpone their decision about this because there are many citizens who are trying to find other solutions to this problem, that don't involve the sale of PGE to NW Natural. And that the PUC should consider other possible solutions besides the formation of a holding company for PGE.
Others advised the PUC to find ways to charge big business more for the electricity they use, and to charge the poor and disabled less, as well as to invest in alternative energy solutions. One woman who works with a group that helps the poor meet rising energy costs, has already received 3575 calls for help meeting energy bills, 1448 of these had shut off notices, and only 582, around 15%, could be helped by the group/agency she works for. She urged the PUC to create local service centers, guarantee low income customers help increase energy efficiency and service, enforce or create bills similar to SB 1149, impose rate discounts based on usage incentives, improve allowable weatherization measures, and improve program design for energy efficient measures, among other ways to improve energy service.
Bev Stein, running for governor, wants to know whether there were rate hikes illegally imposed on Oregon ratepayers due to illegal activities of Enron during the time they have owned PGE. If there were, she says the law states that three times this amount is owed to the Oregon ratepayers and that Enron should be sued on behalf of ratepayers for this amount. She went on to say there should be an Energy Trust created by NW Natural, if this sale is approved, that would consist of 2% of dividends, and that there should be a public voice at the table of any new utility appointed by an Energy Trust or a board, and that shares of stock or position on the board by members of the public is essential to ensure the public has a say in how this company operates. She also asked that PUC act on behalf of the remaining 2900 employees of PGE. She demanded that the public be told if there are details on bonuses that will be given to executives of PGE/NW Natural, that employees be compensated, and that severance packages be guaranteed to those employees who will be losing their jobs.
Many others spoke, most of them speaking against the acquisition of PGE by Northwest Natural, and in favor of PGE being instead put into the hands of the people, in the form of a Public Utility District, or by activating a State Power Authority, or by other means, all falling under the scope of Article 11-D of the Oregon Constitution.
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