SMUD wrestling

Read the annexation report at

The results of a long-awaited study by Sacramento-based firm R.W. Beck came in a few weeks back and—big surprise!—proved what public-utility backers have been saying all along: that a switch from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) would be advantageous for Yolo County residents.

The $500,000 feasibility report—commissioned by the cities of Davis, Woodland and West Sacramento; Yolo County; and SMUD—is a technical one that makes for laborious reading. Basically, researchers ran a dozen scenarios about what would happen if various segments of Yolo County converted to power from SMUD. The chief finding was that, for a cost of $108 million, if Yolo County residents united in switching to SMUD, they could benefit on multiple levels.

Longtime public-utility advocate Dan Berman lauds the study and states that new Yolo County SMUD customers would:

• Save money on energy bills of up to 8.5 percent. The savings stand to reason, because SMUD, as a publicly owned entity, pumps surplus money back into its system rather than paying out to stockholders.

• Receive their energy from renewable sources like never before. Davis and Yolo County residents would have five times as much solar electric capacity per customer if they switched to SMUD and twice as much wind capacity.

How does PG&E respond to all this? With vexation. The state’s largest utility dubs annexation “risky,” and a spokesman called the study a “half-million-dollar piece of fiction,” saying the cost of acquisition could be four times as high. But we should not be astonished that PG&E disagrees with the impartial Beck findings. Clearly, PG&E doesn’t want to lose 85,000 paying customers, and the company is signaling that it will not be going down without a battle.

Indeed, PG&E is famous for furiously fighting back when a competing utility wants what it has. Right now, in southern San Joaquin County, which encompasses Escalon and Manteca, PG&E is waging an all-out public-relations campaign against South San Joaquin Irrigation District’s bid to acquire 33,000 of PG&E’s customers. Last month, the mammoth utility sent out a 10-page, full-color brochure to 22,000 residents that asserted dubious claims that the district’s power likely would mean rate hikes and lessened reliability. Certainly, we can expect the same when PG&E vs. SMUD goes to the ballet in the cities of Yolo County.

For now, Davis Mayor Ruth Asmundson and City Councilwoman Sue Greenwald will serve on a subcommittee to analyze the next steps. Meanwhile, SMUD staff will evaluate the Beck report. If SMUD concludes that expansion would be a net benefit to its current customers, the utility would begin a year-long annexation process. Ultimately, under the unified Yolo County scenario, the city councils of Davis, Woodland and West Sacramento would have to vote in favor of annexation, and then the issue would head for a vote of the people.

We’re delighted that, at long last, Yolo County has joined in the PG&E vs. SMUD battle. May the cheapest and most environmentally sound source of power win!