George Pfromm II
A year ago, it seemed like Portland General Electric was simply going to be handed from one corporate giant to the next. To even dream that PGE could be a locally owned and operated utility was little more than a Green Party fairy tale--perhaps somewhat less likely than Ralph Nader being elected President. But last Thursday, Oregon utility regulators--the Public Utility Commission--shot down Texas Pacific's bid to buy PGE. And, in the process, they may have just proven that community tenacity can actually triumph over corporate greed.

But now it's up to city council and state legislators to take that dream to the hoop.

For the past two years--ever since defeating a ballot initiative requesting community ownership for PGE--it seemed inevitable that Texas Pacific would simply step in as the power utility's new owners. PGE was one of Enron's holdings, and after that corporation imploded, PGE was put on the auction block by a federal bankruptcy court in 2002.

In spite of vocal and steadfast community opposition to further corporate ownership, Texas Pacific seemed destined to steamroll into town as the owners of the utility company serving the vast majority of northwest Oregon. A voter initiative hoping to set up a Public Utility District was soundly thumped at the ballot box in November 2003. A second, subsequent attempt for a PUD did not even qualify for the ballot.

But the plot line in which Texas Pacific muscles into town and takes over has slowly unraveled over the past year. Mayor Katz, who seemed more interested in ownership of a major league baseball team than a utility company, has left office; Tom Potter has rekindled belief in community spirit; questions have been raised about Texas Pacific's finances and ethics; and, amidst several high profile scandals, there has been a steady trend towards public suspicion of corporations. Moreover, former governor Neil Goldschmidt has vanished from the political scene. Until his political demise, Goldschmidt had been a key player in securing Texas Pacific's bid for PGE.

During the 2003 campaign against the PUD, Goldschmidt became the most vocal opponent to a publicly owned utility company, claiming that it was not in the public's best interest. He wrote several opinion pieces in the Oregonian and lent his--at that time--weighty prestige to the effort to thwart public ownership of PGE.

Ultimately, the PUD ballot measure failed. Then, in the days following its defeat, Goldschmidt stepped forward to reveal he was working with Texas Pacific to buy PGE--and, even more shocking and disturbing, that he would be a part owner. At no time during the anti-PUD campaign did Goldschmidt disclose that he and fellow businessmen had something up their sleeves besides defeating the PUD. Although that backroom deal left a sour taste for some, it did not derail Texas Pacific's momentum.

But a few months later, after The Oregonian and Tribune simultaneously broke the news and confessions that the former "golden boy" had raped a teenage girl during his tenure as mayor, Goldschmidt resigned his numerous positions and causes. That absence left Texas Pacific without a powerful ally.

Last week's announcement that Texas Pacific would not be allowed to purchase PGE drove the final nail into the coffin.

"The potential harms or risks to PGE customers from the deal outweigh the potential benefits," said PUC Commission Chair Lee Beyer in a press release.

The end of one chapter in PGE's history starts yet another. However, unlike the previous narrative, the future direction of the PGE story is now in the control of city council--not a corporation. By last Friday, both the mayor's office and city council member Erik Sten stated they would push forward a plan to purchase PGE.

"Pre-Enron, Texas Pacific would have been approved in a heartbeat," Sten told the Mercury. "Oregon is smart and bold," he added, "rather than politically expedient and corporate."

On Friday, Sten contacted Enron officials to announce the city's intention to buy PGE.

But the PGE purchase is still far from a done deal. PGE could reject the city's offer and, instead, turn the company into an independent Oregon corporation with its stock held by the 9,000-plus creditors that Enron screwed.