More Power To Ya...
By Bill Eagle for the Columbia River Reader.

Richard is one of my oldest friends.  He is retired and now lives in the San Diego area.  We used to live in the same neighborhood, consequently we both went to the same High School and later to the same Community College.  When I got married, he and his bride traveled part of the way with us on our honeymoon.  Some 40 years have passed and we still communicate.

I called Richard on the telephone:  "Yo big guy.  How are things?  The paper says that you guys are having blackouts?"

"No black outs here."  Replies my friend.  "They raised our rates instead.

"Yeh." Says I.  "Our rates are going up here too.  Our local Public Utility District plans to tack a 12% surcharge on to our bills."

"Is that all?"  says Richard.  "My rates have been increased almost two and a half times.  It was either that or have rolling blackouts."

I take a deep breath at this, and try to comprehend what my bill would be if I had to pay 250% more.

"it's the fault of all those social engineers" continues Richard.  " and the power companies are playing a shell game with us."

"Social Engineers?  Game?"  I ask.

"Yes social engineers." Lectures my friend.  "These people were responsible for California closing down several power plants and then refusing to build any new ones to take their place.  I guess they figured that they could get their electricity from you guys in Oregon.  But that's not all.  The genius's serving on our State Assembly voted unanimously in 1996 to deregulate our electric industry.  They wanted to dismantle what they felt was a government regulated monopoly, and they used public money to help do it.

"No one wants monopolies." Says I.

"Strange, " continues my friend, "The electric industry overwhelmingly supported this 'grand experiment'.  What they did was have the State create incentives for the utilities to sell their generating plants.  They sold them to unregulated private companies.  They were required to transfer operational control of transmission lines and power grids to a private nonprofit organization.  What remained for the utilities was ownership of the distribution system.  They owned the wires that brought electricity to our homes."

I interject:  "Non profit sounds nice to me.  Gosh, it has a very Christian sound to it."

It may sound Christian, but it was a plan straight from hell." Adds Richard.  "God it was dumb, and we all fell for it.  Here's how it works.  The regulated utilities sold their power generators to unregulated companies (in many instances, their parent companies).  These companies produced and sold power through a non-profit called the 'California Power Exchange.'  The power is then managed by 'The Independent System Operator;' a non-profit that maintains the power grid.  The local companies, like Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas and Electric, own the distribution systems; the wires that supply homes and businesses.  The end result is that we have the unregulated parent companies of our utilities selling power to their regulated subsidiaries."

"Uh, is that bad?"  asks I, while my head swims with all this technical stuff.

"It is," replies Richard "if the regulated subsidiaries are going bankrupt and their unregulated parent companies are making enormous profits.


I thought about this a lot after I spoke with my California friend.  I kept on thinking that there really should be something that we could do for them.  My 12% electric increase was but a pittance, compared to the amount that Californians now have to pay.  Years ago, I remember my parents telling me to finish all that I had on my plate.  They told me that I had to do this because of the starving children in Asia.  I am reallynot sure how this logic works, but I do remember it being thrown at me.  I guess Oregonians can now tell their kids to turn off their lights, not to waste electricity because of all the poor Californians that can't afford to heat their Jacuzzi's.

My wife is in the other room wrapping something up.  I asked her what she was doing and she replied.  "It's a care package for your friend in California.'

A care package?

My wife was carefully placing four new D cell batteries into a mailer.

Now is that kind or what?  I sure hope my friend Richard appreciates the effort.

The Columbia River Reader is printed monthly by Randy Sanders. 
P.O. Box 551 St. Helens, OR
Telephone 503 366-2201
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