Our View: Transparency key in rollout of energy program

-A +A
It’s a key component for any elected official in Placer County to have and retain.
And Placer County residents have a right, if not a duty, to keep a wary eye on the integrity of all those who hold or seek public office.
The integrity of every dollar that comes in and goes out in local government should also be watched with an eagle eye. Or maybe a tiger’s.
In recent months, a new player on the Placer County political scene has emerged and has naturally been raising good and necessary questions. For a small minority, it’s been raising hackles.
Those questions — and those hackles — are all to the good when it comes to government, dollars and sense.
The new object of scrutiny is Pioneer Community Energy — a local government partnership between the cities of Auburn, Colfax, Lincoln, Rocklin and the town of Loomis and Placer County. It was formed over the past year to provide local control over the electric supply and hopefully lower electricity rates.
Pioneer buys the electricity and then uses the Pacific Gas & Electric system to transmit and deliver the power. With PG&E continuing to own, operate and maintain its poles and wires, including outage response, as well as also doing the meter reading and billing services, Pioneer has been set up as an alternative to consider on monthly customer bills.
What we’ve seen is a new entity that works well with PG&E to deliver the best service and communications to all areas. The representatives of Pioneer have been forthcoming and available to answer all questions from the community.
Right now, customers can opt out of Pioneer and switch over to PG&E at no expense. And about 5 percent had by the end of last month, mostly because they objected to being “opted in.” That’s according to a Pioneer “exit poll” that also found customers deciding to go with PG&E because of loyalty or objections to a government-operated power vendor. As Pioneer has explained, there was no way for it to change the methodology for a billing shift back to PG&E. The customer must make that decision. That’s what Sacramento legislated — not the Pioneer board.
There’s a small savings for customers who go with Pioneer but the benefits will come as the joint powers authority builds up its reserves while keeping money in the local economy through its operations that would be funneled elsewhere in many cases. That means more money in the local economy and more local jobs.
Through a series of public meetings, Pioneer has gone out into the community to answer many questions and address concerns.
And that’s as it should be. The friendly exchange of information can lead to better ways of doing things and let the elected officials on the board representing local government know how their constituents are accepting Pioneer.
Leading the effort as executive director during the initial months of setup  — and not on the Pioneer payroll as she plays a key role in establishing the initiative as part of the state’s community choice aggregation program — Placer County Treasurer Jenine Windeshausen has been the calm eye in sometimes-hurricane conditions as questions about the integrity of Pioneer and its motives fly.
And those questions and that weather eye should continue to seek out answers as Pioneer moves forward.