When I first heard a public-power advocate refer to something called “PG&E’s playbook,” I assumed there was no such book.
I figured the phrase was used to dramatize the idea that the giant utility could be counted on to follow a predictable script—in terms of public-relations strategies and campaign tactics—when fighting off a community’s attempt to join or form a public utility. (There have been plenty of such attempts in Northern California over the decades, as it turns out.)
But an actual “playbook” couldn’t really exist, right?
Folks, there is a book.
Though only 70 pages in length and not actually written by PG&E (it was penned in 2002 for the electric industry’s trade association, of which PG&E is an essential member), there does exist an honest-to-goodness guidebook that advises those who run shareholder-owned utilities about how to fight against municipalization campaigns, such as the one being waged right now by the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD) and the cities of urban Yolo County.
As SN&R’s Cosmo Garvin reports in “PG&E’s playbook,” the document can be seen as a kind of lens through which to look at what’s ahead with SMUD v. PG&E. It comes replete with myriad suggestions (“a solid, multi-faceted strategy”) about how a big utility can nip a takeover in the bud and (if that fails) defeat a public-power conquest at the ballot box.
Now, none of this is outright wrong or even all that surprising.
Indeed, it’s certain that proponents of public power have similar resources that help them figure out how to communicate their message, i.e. that public power means lower utility bills for all and democratic control over such things as where power comes from. (Hint: SMUD gets lots of its energy from renewable sources while PG&E just re-licensed its Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.)
But what’s compelling about PG&E’s playbook is that it opens a window into a truth about how huge corporations uniformly behave when citizens threaten their profits by saying, “Enough is enough; we’re going to control our own destiny.”