Sunday Commentary: We Had Far More Choice with VCE Than We Ever Had with PG&E

I continue to find the narrative by columnist Bob Dunning to be ironic.  He writes, “I continue to get so many complaints about the way we were all signed up for Valley Clean Energy without our permission that I feel like an unpaid Customer Service Agent for VCE.”

His online column today, entitled, “They don’t trust us to make the right choice,” I also find ironic.  I have three pretty basic responses to his column.

Mr. Dunning wrote a column a few weeks ago and Valley Clean Energy wrote a response.  Mr. Dunning disparagingly refers to the individual tasked with that duty as an “Energy Czar.”

Mr. Dunning notes, “The Czar then goes on to explain all the ways that Valley Clean Energy attempted to get the word out on the transfer of power — literally — from PG&E to VCE…”

The VCE official goes through all the efforts the VCE went to get out the word to the public – apparently in vain – to which Mr. Dunning responds: “Which is all well and good but for the fact I wasn’t complaining about the lack of notice, just the lack of choice.”

Instead, Mr. Dunning writes that “it’s the mandatory part of this thing that’s so troubling. When it comes to our city’s switch to Valley Clean Energy, we had no say in the deal. No, you are now signed up for VCE whether you like it or not.”

The first problem here is that Mr. Dunning clearly doesn’t see the nexus between informing the public and choice.  This is important.  In fact, this gets to the heart of the beef I have with Bob Dunning’s entire narrative on this subject.

Clearly Mr. Dunning is angling at the desire to see some sort of vote of the people.  This is what happened in 2006 when we had the option of going to SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District).  What happened was that there were two measures on the ballot, both of which passed overwhelmingly in Davis, one of which passed countywide, one of which failed.  And then the approval vote by Sacramento SMUD customers failed overwhelmingly.

To defeat the move to SMUD, PG&E spent over $10 million on a disinformation campaign.

We in Davis voted to leave PG&E over a decade ago.  We were forced by state law to stick with them.  Most of us never had a reasonable choice on which to go with for our electricity.  We only had the choice between PG&E and going without power.

So this whole idea that we had no choice and we had no say in the Valley Clean Energy deal is questionable at its core premise.  Since when did we have a choice on our power company?  Answer: since never.

But that gets me to the second problem I have – we actually did have choice and a great deal of say in the Valley Clean Energy switch.  This is in contrast to Bob Dunning’s assertion.

Why?  This relates to the long public process of making the switch and the efforts by VCE, and before that the city of Davis, to inform people of the switch.

In 2016, the Davis City Council, the duly elected body of the people of Davis, voted 5-0 to create a joint powers authority and create Valley Clean Energy.  Apparently some folks in this town believe that only direct democracy matters.  That we don’t have in fact a representational democracy in this community.

Bottom line, if Bob Dunning, whose newspaper covered this extensively, had raised questions in 2016 rather than now, and the public had spoken out at that time, we would have had this discussion in 2016 and we would have a vast array of choices that are not available now, including the possibility of a public vote.

The reason that this didn’t happen is that no one said a word about this until Bob Dunning wrote a column a few months ago.

The lack of choice, therefore – such as it was, is a reflection of the lack of public engagement on this issue.  And for that Mr. Dunning and dozens of other community members only have themselves to blame, because this did not happen overnight.  There was a series of meetings, there was a vote of our representatives, and they went ahead because no one – literally no one – objected.

That gets me to the final point: “They don’t trust us to make the right choice.”

First of all, I don’t think that’s true.  I think the council assumed, when they didn’t get negative feedback after extensive attempts at public outreach, that this simply was not controversial.  That was my assumption as well.

However, while I disagree that the council does not trust the community to make the right choice, what does the fact that the community was completely disengaged on this issue say about them?  If people are not paying attention to public process despite ads in the paper, direct mailers, public meetings and emails, maybe the council should not trust the people to make the right choice on something that is very complicated and not all that straightforward.

The bottom line for me here is that the no-choice narrative is a false one for three reasons.  First, we have never really had a choice on PG&E, and yet that for some weird reason seems more acceptable to Bob Dunning than an energy program run by our duly elected representatives.

Second, we did have a choice now because the council answers to us and they are our representatives.  And third, we had numerous opportunities to speak up and we ignored this until well past the point of no return.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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8 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: We Had Far More Choice with VCE Than We Ever Had with PG&E”

  1. Dave Hart

    1.  First of all, Bob Dunning is not a journalist nor is he anything like a public policy analyst.  He is in the entertainment business.  His job is to entertain with outlandish and often obviously off the mark pronouncements that pander to the cynical “every one with any kind of authority is corrupt” streak that we all love to wallow in.  Everyone, that is, except for athletics programs and the Catholic Church.

    2.  The 2002 state law that opened the pathway to ‘community choice aggregation’ of electric power purchasing specifically set the process for individual consumers to be opt-out precisely because it was recognized that the major utilities would lie, cheat and steal to keep us from second-guessing their wholesale power purchasing plans that resulted in massive dislocations during the Enron power debacle of 2001-o2.

    So, unsurprisingly, Bob is uninformed and has done little homework on this issue because he doesn’t have to.  Yes, he does get a declining portion of the active voters in a lather with his “Make Davis Great Again” schtick, but the reality of VCE and its savings speaks for itself.

    1. Richard McCann

      Dave

      Unfortunately, we have seen that “entertainers” can have large consequences on our public policy. And Dunning’s ill informed opinions have impacts local policy decisions. We can’t simply ignore his columns because you and I agree that he’s an entertainer. There are too many people in Davis who do not see Dunning solely in that role.

  2. Howard P

    And, one choice we have is to eschew VCE and stick with PG&E.  Another choice is to stick with VCE…

    This argument of opt-in vs opt-out is silly, mayhaps stupid.  Choose… and if you reconsider your choice, choose again… repeat as necessary/desired… simple…

  3. Richard McCann

    David

    I think your column misses the fundamental point–contrary to everything that Dunning writes, we DO have a choice–it’s just that the starting point (default) isn’t what he wants. He prefers that the big corporations get the favored pole position.

    I wrote Dunning this email (since the Enterprise already published my earlier letter on the same topic and I got no response in his column.)

    https://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/dunning/bob-dunning-they-dont-trust-us-to-make-the-right-choice/
    Bob
    You complain that somehow you’ve been “mandated” to sign up with Valley Clean Energy Alliance. Yet you fail to ask the question “why was I mandated to sign up with PG&E all of those years?” Why does PG&E get a free pass from your scrutiny?
    Instead now, you actually have a choice. We trust that you will make the right choice, whereas before you had NO choice. And you are not “mandated” to join VCE. You can act to switch to PG&E if you so choose. What has changed is the starting point of your choice. The default is no longer PG&E—it’s VCE. There’s nothing wrong with changing the default choice, but we have to start with a default since everyone wants to continue to receive electricity. (The other option is like they did with long distance service in the late 1980s with random assignment as the starting point, but that seems too much bother.)

     Send me your answers in your next column.

    1. David Greenwald

      Richard – I would have to disagree with you – the title of the column is that we have more of a choice now than ever.  I do think you raise a good point about Dunning’s preference, although I’m not sure that’s his actual preference so much as to wanting to raise the specter of no community vote.  I see that as his primary point, not necessarily that he wanted PG&E.  I could be wrong, but reading him over the years, choice is code language for vote.

      1. Richard McCann

        David

        Your headline is right, but the content doesn’t reflect that point. I don’t think you call out explicitly that Dunning is trying to roll back the decision to 2016. (And I agree with your code word in his column, but you don’t make that point until this comment.) I make the point that we did not have a popular vote on whether to form the Davis-Woodland Water Authority to build the new surface water plant. We left that complex decision to the City Council.

        In both cases, the distinction between the choice to form VCE made by city councils and the Board of Supervisors after substantial study is not distinguished from the choice that electricity ratepayers now have as to which entity will serve them. Previously, Yolo County ratepapers had no choice as to who should serve them–it took the formation of VCE to create that choice. If Dunning has a problem with that even offering that choice in the first place, then that’s a much more fundamental problem. But he is not being so transparent in his opposition, with is either disingenuous or ignorant.

        I get the impression that many conservative individuals in town want a popular vote on every single issue in town. I’m not sure if its because 1) they believe that by isolating complex issues and coming up with simplistic slogans they can confuse the electorate into voting “no” on everything or 2) they believe such votes will simply gum up government enough that nothing ever really gets solved (which seems to be their underlying preference.)

         

  4. Richard McCann

    David

    Your headline is right, but the content doesn’t reflect that point. I don’t think you call out explicitly that Dunning is trying to roll back the decision to 2016. (And I agree with your code word in his column, but you don’t make that point until this comment.) I make the point that we did not have a popular vote on whether to form the Davis-Woodland Water Authority to build the new surface water plant. We left that complex decision to the City Council.

    In both cases, the distinction between the choice to form VCE made by city councils and the Board of Supervisors after substantial study is not distinguished from the choice that electricity ratepayers now have as to which entity will serve them. Previously, Yolo County ratepapers had no choice as to who should serve them–it took the formation of VCE to create that choice. If Dunning has a problem with that even offering that choice in the first place, then that’s a much more fundamental problem. But he is not being so transparent in his opposition, with is either disingenuous or ignorant.

    I get the impression that many conservative individuals in town want a popular vote on every single issue in town. I’m not sure if its because 1) they believe that by isolating complex issues and coming up with simplistic slogans they can confuse the electorate into voting “no” on everything or 2) they believe such votes will simply gum up government enough that nothing ever really gets solved (which seems to be their underlying preference.)

     

    1. Dave Hart

      Richard, I think it is a healthy serving of both of your options.  Voting on everything is definitely a good way to stop just about anything because fear (of change) trumps the not-so-sexy and extremely boring process of analysis and study.  Hence, Bob Dunning’s truck in trade.  I suppose the only way to know how influential his column is on public opinion would be to take a scientific poll.  Okay, not interested in paying for that.  So, in the meantime, I salute your willingness to call him out.

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