PGE bill on way to governor
Legislation designed to help business interests buy PGE and convert it to a hybrid public-private utility passes the House
Monday, July 11, 2005
SALEM -- With legislative leaders continuing to negotiate a final budget deal, the Oregon House met Sunday evening to approve a short list of bills, including one that could aid the conversion of Portland General Electric to a consumer-owned utility.
The weekend activity made the Capitol a busy place on the six-month anniversary of the session, which began Jan. 10.
In its first floor session in four days, the House's most significant vote was to approve Senate Bill 671, which would set up a financing method for a group of investors to buy PGE and convert it to a customer-owned utility.
The House had voted Wednesday to adjourn until the weekend after Republican leaders said there was little for members to do during negotiations on the state's 2005-07 budget.
The budget wrangling continued through the weekend. On Saturday, Republicans from the House met for about 12 hours with Democratic leaders from the Senate, as well as with Gov. Ted Kulongoski's chief of staff. Their negotiations resumed Sunday evening and included House Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, who had missed Saturday's meetings due to illness.
When the House returned Sunday, members voted 43-14 to approve the legislation designed to aid the efforts by Oregon Mutual Utility Development Inc., a group of Portland-area businesspeople and utility executives.
Theirs is one of three competing efforts to mount a public takeover of PGE, including one by the Legislature and one by the city of Portland. PGE is owned by Enron and is the state's largest utility, with 765,000 ratepayers.
SB671 would authorize the state Public Utility Commission to require a utility to collect enough money in rate payments to cover the debt of a bond-financed acquisition. That would essentially guarantee a revenue source for the debt, lowering purchase costs through low-interest borrowing.
House members expressed reservations about the financing method, saying they worried it could increase PGE customers' rates. They also noted that a variety of consumer and industry groups opposed the legislation.
"SB671 is risky business, and I ask you not to gamble with Oregon's future," said Rep. Chip Shields, D-Portland.