MUDs on the move

Legislation making it easier for local governments to form their own municipal utility districts (MUDs) cleared a major hurdle last week, passing from the state Senate to the Assembly.

Senate Bill 2X 23, by Pomona Democrat Nell Soto, is expected to be taken up by the Assembly Committee on Local Government after lawmakers return from summer recess on August 20.

“This is an important bill for citizens who want to declare their independence from out-of-state gougers and irresponsible in-state investor-owned utilities,” Soto said.

The bill, which was strongly opposed by Pacific Gas & Electric and other big utilities, would streamline the process for formation of citizen-based MUDs by placing the decision more firmly in the hands of elected officials.

Earlier this year, a push by Davis residents to form their own MUD was shot down by the Yolo County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), a five-member commission that oversees local special districts. Under current law, LAFCOs have the power to deny MUD applications, notwithstanding the wishes of citizens or their elected representatives (“Recharging Public Power,” SN&R, March 15).

The bill would circumvent the LAFCO process and give more authority to city councils and county supervisors. It would also limit the ability of investor-owned utilities to keep MUD efforts tied up in court.

Supporters of the bill say MUDs are typically more responsive to their ratepayers and have historically provided power at lower rates. And some MUDs, such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, have done a better job of providing electricity from renewable, non-polluting sources such as wind, solar and bio-mass generation.

“The ability to have a democratic vote on what kind of power you want in your town is only available to municipal utility districts,” said Barbara George with the Public Power Now coalition.

In August, the Senate is also expected to take up Assembly Bill X2 9 by San Francisco Assemblywoman Carole Migden, which would allow cities to form power-buying collectives, further enhancing local governments’ ability to get better rates and to purchase greener power.