AMP Leaves Alamedans in the Dark

Our electric company may be publicly owned, but public participation is down because it requires too much energy.

In 2017, eight of the eleven monthly public utilities board meetings, including two with important workshops and presentations, have been or will be held at the Alameda Municipal Power (AMP) offices at Clement Avenue and Grand Street, instead of at city hall.  I was late to one workshop because I could not get up to the secured conference room until someone happened by in the otherwise empty corridor and let me in.  To make it even more difficult, the workshops were scheduled during the workday.

Board meetings held at the AMP offices are not televised or streamed online in the same way as city hall meetings.  Thus, the public cannot watch the meetings live, and the only unedited archive is an audio recording.  Good luck dragging the online audio slider back and forth through two- to three-hour recordings to find the topic that interests you.  Links to agenda item presentations are sometimes not included making it impossible for the public review the material.  Also, in an unlikely location, meeting minutes online are stored within meeting agendas.  All other city meeting minutes are listed separately once approved, making them highly visible.

Some of the content on AMP’s website is murky too.  The website used to show a detailed list of AMP’s power contracts for geothermal, wind, landfill gas and hydroelectric.  Those details were recently removed.  The website now contains an overview of AMP’s energy sources, directing readers to the so-called “Power Content Label” on another page, which says that 69 percent of AMP’s power is coming from “unspecified sources.”

There is now a recently added “Climate Change Projects” page that contains the misleading statement, “Alameda was able to sell some of its excess renewable energy to other organizations struggling to achieve compliance.”  The decision some eight years ago to sell some of our renewable energy was not an act of altruism or kindness.  It was done to reap a windfall to fund AMP projects.

Leaving Alamedans in the dark with fluffy spin, wittingly or unwittingly, fosters distrust.  It also keeps public scrutiny at bay and discourages participation.

Comparing AMP and the public utilities board to a Star Trekkian force field, Gabrielle Dolphin’s recent letter to the editor (“What does ‘community owned utility’ mean,” Alameda Sun, June 1, 2017) questioned the value of having a community-owned public utility “if its community cannot penetrate the process.”  Point well taken.  If Alamedans and other interested parties are to have a voice in the policies and operations of AMP, it shouldn’t be so difficult to participate in the process.

Members of the public utilities board, which City Manager Jill Keimach, need to take the lead on ensuring that details of AMP’s portfolio are posted on its website and that all Alamedans can easily access information and attend or view meetings.  As Ms. Dolphin noted in her letter, “a highly educated and experienced citizenry” is an untapped resource not being utilized.  Let’s make it easy to participate and be heard.

We’re proud that AMP is community owned and delivers safe, reliable electricity at lower rates than PG&E.  Let’s also create an environment where we can be proud of its transparent and responsive methods of operation and civic involvement.

Originally published in Alameda Sun

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