For some reason every two years the Legislature continues to allow $146 million of ratepayer fees to flow to the Energy Trust of Oregon with little accountability or oversight. This is just one example of a government program desperately in need of oversight and transparency.
Senate Bill 807 would require an immediate performance audit of the ETO and more aggressive legislative oversight of this rapidly growing pot of ratepayer contributions. But SB 807 is stuck in the Senate Business and Transportation Committee without any sign of coming out before the end of session.
Because of a mandatory public purpose charge created by the Legislature in 1999, every month PGE and PacifiCorp customers send 3 percent of their electric utility bill to the ETO and every month customers of NW Natural and Cascade Gas send 3 percent of their utility bill do the same. Every month, up to 6 percent of your money goes to a non-profit, non-governmental organization, for a total of more than $146 million every two years.
The fund started out at $20 million in 2002 and has grown astronomically to $146 million. As utility rates rise, the public purpose fund rises with it, creating automatic year-over-year increases that don't reflect the fund's original purpose. The only time the Legislature has looked at the relevance of the public purpose fund was to extend a sunset of the fund from 2013 to 2026. It was extended with no legislative debate.
Typically there is a thorough review of state agency budgets through the Ways and Means committees of the State Legislature. However, because the Energy Trust is a non-governmental entity, there is no statutory authority to review the ETO's budget.
SB 807 would require an outside performance audit of the Energy Trust of Oregon and a report to the legislature on how it is spending its $146 million dollars of ratepayer money.
Why should the ETO or its supporters fear an audit or more direct legislative oversight? If the organization is still fulfilling its original purpose and acting responsibly, there should be no cause for anxiety. The ETO and the Public Utility Commission are asking the legislature and the public to "trust" that they are doing their job efficiently and effectively. But if history is any indicator, increased accountability and transparency are rarely a bad thing.
At the end of the day, $142 million coming from a mandated ratepayer assessment deserves a more careful examination and legislative scrutiny.