A BOLD VISION FOR THE NEW CENTURY:
CREATING THE DAVIS MUNICIPAL UTILITY DISTRICT (DMUD)
By Dennis Dingemans, Dave
and David J. Thompson
"Bringing power back to the people" is catching on across the nation.
It can happen right here in Davis, as well.
The report on "Electric Industry
Restructuring," done in good Davis
fashion by a citizens task force, is completed. Now, therefore, is a good time to consider a bold but logical next step. Let's start our own Davis Municipal Utility District. Our own DMUD would be empowered to take actions that other communities in California are finding beneficial. The positive results of long term local ownership and control are all around us in Sacramento, Palo Alto and Riverside. In this era of utility restructuring, other cities and counties are taking steps or looking at local ownership of their utilities. Entities as far apart geographically as the City of Long Beach and NorCal Electric Authority, a joint powers authority owned by Del Norte County and the City of Yreka, are working to lower electric rates, increase system reliability and shift to alternatives such as renewable solar energy sources. We can too.
In towns and cities across
the United States, major efforts are
underway by local governments to negotiate for purchase of the energy systems. In the high utility cost rural areas of New England and New York State, hundreds of citizen groups are returning to the proven method of starting or tying into existing rural electric cooperatives. Today, 1,000 electric co-ops serve over 30 million people in 46 states. All across the nation, utility restructuring is ushering in a period of citizen efforts to bring power back to the people.
The most interesting new co-op example is First Rochdale based in New
York City. First Rochdale is a purchasing cooperative of housing cooperatives and nonprofits that are buying power wholesale from a rural electric co-op in North Carolina. Similar to First Rochdale is NorCal Co-op in Northern California which, starting in 2000, will provide a range of additional services to the 41,000 ratepayers of the NorCal Electric Authority. Operating as a strategic partner, the NorCal Co-op will look at offering internet, satellite television, solar equipment and other energy services in the NorCal territory covering Del Norte, Siskiyou and parts of Modoc and Shasta County. This type of partnership with a cooperative allows a publicly owned utility to more effectively serve the needs of its users.
Setting the standard for public ownership in California
neighbor) the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) governed by a democratically elected Board of Directors. It became the country's leading solar utility when the people of Sacramento voted to shut down the Rancho Seco nuclear power station and turn toward the sum. SMUD's photovoltaic program has helped install over 500 rooftop solar electric systems since 1994, an effort unmatched nationwide. The SMUD Board contributes over a million dollars a year to the Sacramento Tree Foundation to use shading, the "natural air conditioning," to cut peak summer loads. Residential electric rates in SMUD's area are lower than PG&E's. Sacramento residents paid $38.59 per 500 kilowatt-hours in 1998 while Davis customers paid a bill of $56.71 for the same power. If your monthly bill is for 1,000 kilowatt-hours, typical for a larger house, you pay $113.00 in Davis instead of $93.00 in Sacramento. Check your utility bill to see that these savings are worth working for. Check www.norcalelectric.com for comparisons of electric rates in different parts of California. Throughout California, the average cost of 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity is lower when provided by public power.
Riverside has a city-owned electric company. Their RMUD contributes
10% of its gross electric revenues of $160 million a year to the city treasury. It is reported that Riverside electricity rates undercut Southern California Edison by about 6% for residential customers. Riverside is a university town like Davis and it shares its municipal power benefits with the University of California at Riverside. The university buys its electricity from the city system and the city works with university faculty and staff on renewable energy research and a thermal energy storage system.
The City of Davis requires PG&E to pay the city a mere 1.0% of gross
electricity revenues in exchange for its distribution monopoly. The Davis franchise agreement with PG&E was made in 1959 and has no built-in sunset date. Despite its many repair facilities being located within Davis, our current power company asks us to call an 800 number for calls about outages and other problems. Local control and local activism can result in Davis residents doing better and saving money!
The benefits of citizen ownership and local control can accrue to Davis
just as easily as they do to Riverside and to Sacramento. Under a populist provision of the California constitution, any city has the right to vote to create a municipal utility district and subsequently to decide whether to take over the electric system.
Any such action would require a grassroots support
effort to tap the
latent consensus in favor of the many benefits of a progressive DMUD. One group of Davis citizens, the Coalition for Local Power, has emerged as an advocate for a municipal utility district. It is preparing a petition to be signed by 4,000 voters, with a proposed DMUD boundary map and an outline of how the DMUD would operate.
The Yolo County LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) must
the petition and would set an election date. The proposal then must win a majority of those voting in an election that has a two-thirds turnout of registered voters. The best possibility for such a high turnout will be in the November of 2000 presidential election. We hope you will become informed about the advantages of a DMUD and will sign the petition and vote to create this entity. You even might wish to be a local district candidate for one of the five board member positions which will be filled in the same election. Then you and your fellow elected representatives could decide whether and how fast to research and consider local ownership and cooperative partnerships as a move toward improved reliability, renewability and responsiveness. We are on the threshold of a new energy era of savings and solar. Let's begin the Millennium by voting for a Davis Municipal Utility District.
For more information, contact the interim location of the Coalition for
Local Power at 645 C Street, Davis, California 95616 or 530-753-5959.
Dennis Dingemans is a UCD professor and actively involved in the
Coalition for Local Power, currently serving as interim treasurer. Dave Rosenberg is Yolo County Supervisor for the 4th District. David J. Thompson is a consultant to energy cooperatives. They are all long-time Davis Residents.