Commentary: Diving in murky waters


More than once as a teen I would have been a great nominee for the “Darwin Award” given to those who do things so stupid they are natural candidates to become extinct due to stupid decisions. One of my best was attempting to pilot a canoe through the sluice gates of Huffman Dam located in the greater Dayton, Ohio flood control system during Spring runoff.

My partner and I debated for five minutes if wearing life jackets were necessary and finally decided that “experts” that we were (having navigated the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Canada) we’d wear them “just in case.”

Inside the dark tunnel of the dam filled with a torrent of Spring-runoff we encountered a mountainous wall of churning water that smashed our canoe like a sledgehammer, capsizing us and tossing us into a maelstrom of raging water at the base of the dam. As tourists watched and filmed us from the top of the dam, a local girl scout recognized a bad situation, called the District Rangers and a water rescue team extracted us from the maelstrom 45 minutes later. The undertow beneath the dam had kept us from swimming free as we clung to cracks in the aging dam wall, kept afloat by life jackets we almost discarded. We were hospitalized for hypothermia and later chastised by our girlfriends. Our recovered canoe had dents the size of basketballs as it had been sucked down into the depths of the maelstrom.

People do dumb things all the time, some funny, more often tragic. Diving into a pool of water that is deep but also murky is not a good idea, especially when someone knocked down the sign warning the pool is an alligator habitat. Sometimes city government officials are goaded, encouraged or threatened to take that leap into dark waters: the temptation to please is a natural tendency for those in government positions, after all, part of getting elected is persuading people that they like you (and maybe your ideas) enough to vote for you. Rejecting what seems to be a majority of public enthusiasm is politically hazardous and an emotional challenge. For an elected official, it’s a strong indicator that their “career termination warning light” is flashing bright red.

Last week the Atascadero City Council made a very unpopular decision regarding the Monterey Bay Community Choice electrical power proposal. The council vote was 3 against and 2 in favor of putting the issue on the August agenda. There was a lot of pressure on council members: “Everybody” is joining so we should too. The Council Chambers were full of enthusiastic supporters who wanted the city to take decisive action towards a more “green” electrical power provider for the community. The Monterey Bay proponents put together an impressive slide presentation and encouraged city officials to immediately sign on to the required Joint Powers Authority. No official decision was to be made that night but to meet Monterey Bay deadlines the decision would have to be on the August agenda for official hearings and votes to occur.

Missing from the council chambers in any significant numbers were local voters in opposition; few fiscally-conservative activists were present or aware of the Monterey Bay proposal. Also missing were representatives of PG & E whose electrical transmission and distribution system was to be used to transport MBCA power purchased: the State Legislature and Public Utilities Commission ruled that PG & E was forbidden to participate in these discussions, in essence, a “gag order” was in place. PG & E was even forbidden to respond to questions posed by elected or appointed city officials via e-mail or any other form of communication. That raises red flags immediately; what is MBCA hiding?

When you sign up with MBCA you sign up for a tier of “clean energy.”

The 36% clean energy tier gets you a small rebate;

50% clean energy is a “wash” in terms of monthly PG & E costs, therefore no rebate and the 100% clean energy tier means considerable increases in electric costs. According to the dozens of Monterey County residents who warned SLO County residents and officials of their experiences with MBCA the costs are 30-50% higher bills.

Enthusiastic “green motivated” officials tend to go for the 100% tier which I would consider “virtue signaling” on behalf of their commitment to environmental causes. Costs/benefit and fiscal harm to fixed-income, low-income residents (often seniors or single parents) are ignored on behalf of a desire to act on behalf of an environmental worldview disregarding economic hardships upon ordinary people.

Analysts will tell you green energy projects are always more expensive and rely heavily upon government subsidies. Government projects cost more with negotiations on construction, operation and labor costs being considerably higher than those in the private sector. Then there is the matter of the Joint Powers Authority: Atascadero would get ½ of one vote shared with Paso Robles on the JPA Board, vastly outnumbered by larger communities, giving local officials little clout over JPA decisions.

Finally, the companies providing the “green energy” purchased by MBCA operate mostly out of state and may use coal-fired, natural gas, mass-hydro and nuclear power along with wind and solar power. It’s then all mixed together in transmission with California receiving a “certificate” of source-compliance. There’s no way to guarantee the electrons certified as being produced by green energy are not actually from a coal mine in Wyoming.

You elected this council to protect your interests; allowing them time to demand and receive independent analysis and get specific questions answered is what you elected them to do.

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