It’s been another one of those weeks where I get caught up with my life. Most notably, West Texas Comic Con came and went and was a great success.
In the meantime, some nut shot up Fort Hood, health care reform passed the House, and another crooked Republican Hale County Commissioner got arrested. Also, Lubbock Power and Light bought out its only remaining competition in Lubbock, which is what I want to talk about today.
I didn’t comment as the power grab was happening, but I did spend some time listening to other media commentary about the issue. The reaction to the Lubbock Power and Light (LP&L) deal from the talk radio crowd was pretty fierce — I even got to hear Robert Pratt hang up on Gary Boren* over this issue, which is something you don’t hear every day. (*correction — I have been informed that Gary Boren said he would call back, but never did. I distinctly remember Boren’s mic / phone volume being cut, however.) Meanwhile, LP&L is running ads promoting the deal on the very radio station that expresses outrage at the deal, while newspaper and TV were mostly silent about it. Huh.
The thinking seems to be that, without competition, LP&L’s rates will go up and quality of customer service will go down — maybe not right away, but within a few years.
I agree, but not for the same reasons as the right-wing radio hosts in town.
I believe that utilities can run just fine if they are government-owned in a democratic society. Government-run utilities are even fine as a monopoly if the utilities are accountable to the people directly. (Privately owned utility companies in competition with one another are okay too, although in practice they tend to carve out little anti-competitive fiefdoms rather than compete with each other directly. So, I would rather see a government-owned utility run kinda like a coop instead of a few big corporations gouging customers whenever they can get away with it.)
However, the problem with the current LP&L deal (and it IS a done deal, announced conveniently after the November bond election) is that the structure of LP&L does not make it accountable to the people, which is necessary if you are removing private competition. LP&L is a public utility run like a private company. None of the LP&L board are elected; they are appointed by the City Council. It is more insulated from the will of the citizens than a coop, a private company (maybe), or a publicly traded corporation.
I believe there is an easy way to address this problem. Let’s start electing LP&L board members directly. We could even have a mix of appointed members and elected members, but if LP&L is going to be the only game in town while calling itself a public utility, then it ought to be more democratic.
Oh, and if you’re wondering how we got to this decision, remember back to the 2006 election:
One not-so-secret reason for the buyout is that it simplifies downtown redevelopment for private developers. Don’t get me wrong — I do want to see downtown Lubbock get redeveloped, but not at the expense of affordable/accountable/responsible utilities.
If I may misappropriate a quote from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, remember who drives the bus of civic activity in Lubbock: developers, developers, developers.