Last week, about 200 local residents crowded a public hearing to voice their concern over a proposed buyout of Portland General Electric. Three days before declaring bankruptcy in November, failing energy megalith Enron declared its intention to sell PGE to another Northwest power company, NW Natural. Proponents of the merger say that bringing 1.25 million Portland-area customers together under one umbrella would reduce costs while keeping controls of the utility local.

But the possible merger has Green Party activists up in arms; they say that the merger is a corporate shell game--one that will leave local residents with higher bills, more layoffs and even less control of their energy utilities. According to the terms of the agreement, even though Enron would relinquish direct ownership, it would retain five percent of the new company and would hold two seats on the board of directors.

"At the end of the deal, Enron ends up as the biggest owner of PGE and NW Natural," activist Dan Meek testified at Thursday night's hearing. Meek and other activists are particularly concerned at the prospect of losing local control over energy resources.

Opponents to the buyout pointed out that when PGE first got state licenses to build and operate hydroelectric dams, there was an agreement to transfer ownership of these facilities to the state after operating them for the equivalent of 50 years. This new agreement, say opponents, would cause Oregon to lose this future claim of ownership over its energy resources.

Many at the hearing also voiced their fear that Enron and NW Natural are using a bankruptcy case to sell regulated assets out from under state regulation. As an alternative solution, some members of the Pacific Green Party suggested that the government take control of PGE holdings. Pointing to a 1932 amendment to the Oregon Constitution that gives the state the right to control its own water power, the activists encouraged legislative members to transfer PGE hydro assets to the state.

The Pacific Green Party is sponsoring a forum to discuss taking local or state control over energy utility assets on Tuesday, February 19, at the Multnomah County Library. Hearings on the proposed merger will continue for several months, with a final decision to be issued May 28 by the Public Utility Commission.