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Two new suitors cozy up to PGE

If Texas Pacific bid is nixed, private coalition, legislators ready to jump in

State regulators have a few weeks before making a decision on the proposed sale of Portland General Electric to Texas Pacific Group, but that hasn't stopped two new suitors from stepping forward.

One is a private coalition of Portland investors. The other is a group of state Democratic legislators who are exploring establishing a state power authority to buy the utility.

And on Monday, Mayor Tom Potter threw his support behind the city's longtime quest to own PGE. Potter joined other members of the Portland City Council and elected officials from other local governments in announcing details of the financial plan and management structure for a city-owned utility.

The new private coalition Ñ under the guise of Oregon Mutual Utility Development LLC Ñ is made up of more than a dozen Portland utility executives and business leaders. Coalition members are meeting to discuss new forms of utility ownership, as well as raise money for a possible PGE purchase.

The members are 'developing a concept for mutual ownership similar to the ownership structure of mutual insurance companies,' said Jim Hansen, a Lake Oswego entrepreneur and former legislative candidate who founded the group last summer. He said the group, which is getting help from former Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix, is prepared to announce its plan if the Oregon Public Utility Commission denies Texas Pacific's application.

It would assure local control, as well as stable rates 'and long-term vision over short-term gain,' Hansen said.

The utility commission is expected to make a decision in the next three weeks, said Chairman Lee Beyer.

'We're going through it. It's very complicated, and we're trying to weigh out all the potential harms and how they compare to the benefits,' Beyer said.

Texas Pacific has promised $43 million in rate benefits, but consumer groups are demanding additional savings for PGE customers.

Opposition to the San Francisco investment firm, and its future plans for PGE, have prompted the other sale options to come forward.

Senate Democrats last week revived the possibility of activating a provision in the Oregon Constitution that provides for a state power authority. As yet, no legislation has been proposed that would set into motion a state purchase of PGE, said Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown, D-Portland.

But the issue is expected to be raised during a Senate Business and Economic Development Committee hearing today.

State leaders have the authority to issue billions in revenue bonds backed by utility customer rates that could be used to buy a utility, Beyer said.

He said the structure is no different than any other public authority, such as the Port of Portland, and would be run by gubernatorial appointees.

'Maybe there'd be a bidding war between the city and state,' Beyer joked.

Portland Commissioner Erik Sten said he's not worried about that happening.

'If anyone can put together a public power authority and secure a bid in time to buy this, we'll support it,' he said. 'But they have no idea how complicated it is, and we want to be ready to move quickly.'

Sten said the city has demonstrated regional political and business support for buying PGE as well as operating it. PGE's staff would remain. Blue Heron Paper Co. President Michael Siebers and developer John Russell are among the local business leaders supporting the city's plan.

Jason Eisdorfer of Citizens' Utility Board of Oregon said they're 'seriously looking at all the options out there. Frankly, any of the alternatives are better than what (Texas Pacific) has.'

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