March 24th, 2009 | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Legislature

Will Oregon Lawmakers Get The State to Buy PGE?

Biglow Canyon

For five years after Portland General Electric's former parent, Enron, declared bankruptcy in 2001, various politicians—most notably former Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten—tried to find ways for the public to buy the state's largest utility. Private investors tried as well.

Although PGE and the state's second largest utility, PacifiCorp, are investor-owned, publicly owned utilities are common around the country. Residents of Los Angeles, Seattle, Orlando and many other large cities get their electricity from publicly-owned sources.

In 2005, Oregon lawmakers led by Sens. Ryan Deckert (D-Beaverton), Dave Nelson (R-Pendleton) and Rep. Vicki Berger (R-Salem) pushed Senate Bill 1008 through both houses of the Legislature. The bill would have created Oregon Community Power, an entity that would have established a structure for the state to acquire PGE. Gov. Ted Kulongoski vetoed the bill. And in 2006, PGE sold stock to investors ending, at least temporarily, interest in a public takeover.

But proponents of public ownership quietly came back with a related bill in 2007 that put into law most of the structure necessary for Oregon Community Power to buy PGE.

As soon as tomorrow, Berger will introduce a bill aimed at using that structure.

"It's my priority bill and it basically says Oregon Community Power may use eminent domain to acquire PGE," Berger says.

Berger, a fourth-term representative whose father wrote Oregon's bottle bill, says she was motivated by recent news accounts of retiring PGE CEO Peggy Fowler's $4.5 million compensation. She says she thinks such payments mean the utility is putting executives and stockholders' interests ahead of ratepayers' interests and therefore, electricity rates are higher than they should be.

"I think if PGE has $4.5 million to give away to Peggy Fowler, their rates are too high," Berger says. "I'm aware of other models such as Seattle Power and Light where public ownership works just fine."

PGE spokesman Steve Corson says the utility does not yet have information about Berger's plans. "I'm hearing rumors of a bill, but have no specifics," Corson says.
 
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