October 1, 2015
Why Public Power Matters
By Glenn Steiger
What does tiny Alameda have in common with big cities like Los Angeles, Orlando, Seattle and San Antonio? They are all powered by community-owned electric utilities. In 1887, Alameda’s Board of Trustees (the predecessor to today’s City Council) voted to enter the power business. City leaders believed that, like public schools, parks, hospitals, police and fire departments, community-owned power addressed a basic community need: electricity as an essential public service. Even then, our little town was setting trends.
For more than a century, Alameda Municipal Power (AMP) customers have flipped a switch without giving a second thought to whether there would be light. Alamedans know that they can count on low-cost, green, reliable electricity delivered at any time of the night or day. Sure, AMP keeps the lights on, but did you know that AMP is one of the oldest community-owned electric utilities west of the Mississippi? Yes, even older than our big city contemporaries along the west coast.
Why should community ownership matter to you? Being community-owned means AMP acts in the public interest, for the benefit of the residents of Alameda — not for shareholders who live miles away and may have little interest in this community. With a locally owned utility, revenues from electricity sales go first toward operation of the system and then to improving community services and quality of life for residents. In 2015, AMP’s contribution added $2.8 million to the City of Alameda’s general fund and over $112 million since AMP’s founding in 1887.
Local ownership means that on average, AMP customers pay about 19 percent less than utility customers in neighboring cities such as Berkeley and Oakland. Lower rates mean that people who live here have more dollars to spend here in Alameda. The salaries earned by AMP employees who live on the island are spent in the community for housing, groceries and other services — creating jobs and supporting Alameda’s local economy.
Community ownership gives Alamedans a voice. The ability to have a say in how your utility is run is, perhaps, the most important benefit of community ownership. Decisions about AMP’s operation, budget, rates, green initiatives and more are made locally by the Public Utilities Board (PUB), who are also Alamedans. The Board serves as both a corporate board and a regulatory authority for AMP, and their meetings are always open to the public and subject to the Sunshine Act. This makes AMP uniquely able to respond to the community’s needs and act in a way that is reflective of Alameda’s values.
Every year, AMP takes part in a week-long national celebration of public power’s hometown advantages. This year, we’re celebrating Public Power Week from October 4-10 along with more than 2,000 other utilities that provide electricity on a not-for-profit basis to 46 million Americans. AMP is proud to join with big cities and small towns around the country next week in celebrating community-owned power and reflecting upon the wisdom shown by city leaders so long ago that continues to benefit Alameda today.
- Glenn Steiger is general manager of Alameda Municipal Power.