Michael Turnipseed of the Kern County Taxpayer's Association is of the opinion that Bakersfield, and much of California's Central Valley, are the punch line of a statewide joke about electrical power.
On Tuesday he'll try to convince Kern County supervisors to launch a local rebellion against Pacific Gas & Electric before a statewide voter initiative backed by the utility can make it more difficult for local governments to set up their own utility companies.
Turnipseed is fuming because, he says, PG&E's rate tiers unfairly burden parts of the state with warmer climates with much of the cost of generating and delivering power to the rest of California.
In a letter to supervisors, he calls PG&E a "monopoly utility company" that "charges Kern County residents unequitable and discriminatory wealth-reducing rates."
Turnipseed plans to deliver detailed charts to supervisors -- developed from data published by The Fresno Bee and PG&E -- that show that 25 percent of PG&E customers in the warmest areas of the state pay twice the cost of producing and delivering power in order to subsidize the other 75 percent of customers who live in the cooler parts of the state.
According to rate examples on the PG&E website, a Bakersfield resident who uses about 800 kilowatt hours of power will pay around $114 a month under rates that go into effect on Monday.
Someone who uses twice that amount will see his bill nearly quadruple.
Denny Boyles, a spokesman for PG&E, said the utility company is committed to easing the burden of power costs on warm climate customers in these tough economic times.
He said the company has requested a 2.5 percent decrease in rates that would go into effect on June 1 -- saving a Bakersfield user with a 1,600 kilowatt hour monthly usage $26.83.
Boyles said prices on the bottom two tiers of electrical power have been frozen for years -- creating the situation about which Turnipseed is talking.
"You can make a modest increase in the lower tiers and make a substantial (reduction) for customers in the upper tiers," Boyle said. "That's what we're looking to do here."
Turnipseed is asking supervisors to investigate the situation and see if there is a way to work with current franchise agreements, compare local rates with other communities and figure out a way to protect local power customers.
The ultimate solution, he said, is for Kern County to break away from PG&E and launch its own public utility.
"We're going to be absolutely listening to what (Turnipseed) has to say on Tuesday," Boyles said. "We do believe that the request we made to the CPUC today will address some of his concerns."
Supervisors will have a chance to give their staff direction about what they want to happen with Turnipseed's data.
It is likely that staff will be asked to do at least some of the legwork Turnipseed is requesting.
"His story is certainly compelling. We're going to study this," said Kern County Administrative Officer John Nilon. "Because of the urgency of the matter, we'll probably turn something around in the next couple weeks."
Nilon said the county isn't experienced with running public utility companies.
"It's not traditionally a county role," he said.
But city of Bakersfield Public Works Director Raul Rojas has looked at the issue and said setting up a public utility in the modern era is a daunting task.
"In cities that had started it many, many years ago it works great," he said. "To buy the infrastructure would be very expensive."