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Andy Parker: The Oregonian

To PGE, our ignorance is worth $300,000


When you get your Voters' Pamphlet for the May primary, you'll notice it includes 20 arguments opposing two measures that would provide for a more-detailed study of public power options in Clackamas County.

In those statements, you'll hear from people like Thomas "Pete" Postlewait, president of the Clackamas County Farm Bureau. Pete will tell you that his "grassroots organization" representing 660 family farmers and ranchers is against "kicking a long-established private company out of our county."

Your three county commissioners will tell you they are concerned about the lack of information regarding the financial feasibility of a people's utility district. And they'll tell you the measure is a "distraction from the real challenges" facing the county.

A group of retirees will assure you that a "PUD is a prescription for higher rates and lower quality."

What you won't learn from your Voters' Pamphlet is that Portland General Electric paid the $400 filing fee for 19 of the 20 statements opposing the PUD.

And don't believe that those statements necessarily were written by the people who signed them. Clackamas County Commissioner Bill Kennemer said that in his case, it worked like this:

A PGE community liaison called each commissioner and asked if they would sign a statement opposing the PUD. Kennemer said the commissioners individually agreed to lend their names; they had no private or public discussions about the statement.

This week, the first of two pre-election spending reports was filed detailing campaign contributions. It says much more than any words that will come out of anyone's mouth in the coming weeks.

Already, PGE has spent $300,000 of its shareholders' dollars to make sure it can continue to provide you the kind of service and rates you've grown to expect from the utility. All the money was contributed to an anti-PUD political action committee that so far has received every dollar from PGE.

And it's clear why PGE officials are investing so much. County residents will consider one measure to authorize the formation of a PUD and another that would cost the average homeowner a one-time tax of less than $1. If both pass, you won't believe what would happen.

A study would be conducted to give you more information about whether public power is even feasible in Clackamas County.

That's it. Authorizing the formation of the PUD gives its directors the power to ask you at some later date to approve raising money to buy PGE assets. But that's only after the feasibility study is done and made public.

In Columbia County, voters authorized the formation of a PUD decades before they actually gave it the power to collect money and set up shop.

The same thing is true here. Regardless of what anyone tells you, you're just voting to take a closer look at the issue.

If you simply do not believe in public power and don't want more information, that's fine. But don't let PGE confuse you as to what this vote is about.

PGE, of course, will tell you no new study is needed -- that a PUD is too "risky." You believe that?

How about an outside view? What did the Oregon Department of Energy conclude about the feasibility of the PUD?

It concluded exactly what any reasonable, nonpartisan person would conclude: The resolution of the various questions raised "cannot be readily resolved, without more extended study and analysis of these issues."

And in Oregon, that is exactly what this stage of considering public power is all about. It's not about acting too fast. It's not about whether the directors are economic geniuses on the level of those at Enron and PGE.

It's about taking a closer look so you can make an informed decision at a later date about public power.

If you're not interested in that, fine. Just don't bother complaining if your power rates continue to go up.

Andy Parker's columns appear Mondays and Wednesdays. Contact him at 503-294-5945 or at daparker@news.oregonian.com. His columns and other local columnists of The Oregonian can be found online at www.oregonlive.com/columnists