SAN FRANCISCO - Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the major investor-owned electric utility for Northern California, is bankrolling a ballot measure campaign that would make it harder for governments or agencies to deliver power through community choice aggregation or to expand municipal utility territories through annexation.

The proposed measure would require public utilities to secure a two-thirds vote in a ballot measure to provide electricity to new customers, to expand to new territories, or to provide electricity for a community choice program, "if any public funds or bonds are involved."

According to campaign finance records filed with the California secretary of state, PG&E is the only contributor - to the tune of $3 million - to the campaign committee that is circulating petitions.

If the utility succeeds, it could put another roadblock in front of so-far unsuccessful efforts to use community choice aggregation as an alternative path to public power.

State lawmakers authorized the CCA regulatory structure in 2002 legislation. It is designed to encourage public agency investments in power and power generation without requiring agencies to go through the process of acquiring privately held electricity assets.

Public entities that form CCA arrangements would be authorized to buy power or build power generation of its own, while delivering electricity to customers through the existing grid of the investor-owned utilities. Those IOUs would remain in charge of delivering the power to the customers' doors, and be paid regulated rates for doing so.

The California Public Utilities Commission has so far only approved one CCA application, for the San Joaquin Valley Power Authority, in 2007.

That authority, which consists of about a dozen Central Valley communities, announced in June that it is suspending its efforts to implement a community choice program.

"We are not immune to the market conditions that are affecting the state and national economy," the authority's general manager, David Orth, said in a statement.

"PG&E has continually placed roadblocks in front of our program in an attempt to stop us from implementing Community Choice and ultimately not providing residents and businesses the opportunity to have a choice about who will provide them electrical energy," the authority's chairman, Ron Manfredi, city manager of Kerman, said in the same statement.

The San Joaquin authority's startup funding came through commercial paper issued by the Kings River Conservation District, which took out the CP using proceeds from a $3.6 million issuance of certificates of participation in June.

Supporters of the PG&E-backed ballot measure have until Dec. 21 to submit 694,354 signatures from registered voters. A measure that has $3 million to pay signature gatherers is considered very likely to qualify.

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