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Communities band together to take on multibillion-dollar corporations in fight against high utility bills: 'A necessarily ambitious and visionary effort'

"What we do know is that our utilities have real problems."

"What we do know is that our utilities have real problems."

Photo Credit: iStock

With electrification and climate resilience rising on the list of priorities in localities across the country, several communities around the United States have become battlegrounds where grassroots climate, energy, and consumer activists are taking on the private energy industry that has power over power.

According to reporting in Grist, over a dozen communities across the United States are entertaining campaigns that seek to oust private utility companies in favor of publicly owned power grids.

Advocates for public power claim that socialized ownership would come with a raft of benefits because a public utility is directly responsible to its constituents and locally controlled, while private companies are primarily concerned with the size of the dividends paid to shareholders.

On top of the list for public power advocates is increasing reliability, reducing costs, and making a transition to a green power grid.

A representative of a public power advocacy group based in Rochester, New York, Mohini Sharma, was quoted in Grist: "Public power is a necessarily ambitious and visionary effort."

Industry spokespeople muddy the waters and dispute whether or not public utilities would be able to solve these problems. In addition, they claim that public utility rates would be more expensive after a transition because of the cost companies would extract from the taxpayers in order to purchase the power grid in the first place.

Policy areas that are actively under public scrutiny can be difficult to analyze as competing interests seek to platform their messages and cast doubt on others. Especially in this instance, it is difficult to discern fact from fiction because the private electrical industry is worth over $1 trillion, according to Edison Electric Institute, and is fully capable of publishing its own research and funding expansive public relations campaigns.

The industry recently outspent a Maine campaign to create a statewide public utility 34 to one in order to smash a grassroots organizing project in a statewide election.

However, statistics do exist that allow consumers to find some clarity. Switching to public utilities can save consumers money, with the average public utility customer paying less than those who get their power from investor-owned entities or cooperatives. They are also more reliable, with public customers spending fewer minutes in outages than those of private contemporaries.

It is important to note that there is difficulty in comparing utility performance across environments because of differences in terrain and constituency, which impact statistics.

Despite being outspent in Maine, public utility advocates told Grist that they will continue to fight for better policy because "what we do know is that our utilities have real problems."

"Since electric utilities were first formed, there has always been interest in the public power business model," Ursula Schryver wrote for the American Public Power Association. "New pushes for public power are gaining momentum across the country."

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