SACRAMENTO – The nation's largest public pension fund decided to throw its considerable weight into California's power crisis Monday, as an alternative to divesting itself of energy generators' stock.
The California Public Employees' Retirement System will send a delegation headed by San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, the former longtime Assembly speaker, to urge power generators to avoid seeking short-term profits that could hurt their long-term financial future.
CalPERS has $5 billion in energy holdings and $20 billion in California investments that rely on energy, said spokeswoman Patricia Macht.
It intends to argue, as a stockholder, that generators' profit-taking could prompt a backlash by regulators or the public that would hurt the companies' future earnings. Critics have suggested repealing the state's 1996 deregulation law or imposing a windfall profits tax, for instance.
"Companies never really like to have a corporate activist such as CalPERS speaking out against them, because we're used to using the bully pulpit to bring change," Macht said.
CalPERS annually examines the boards of companies it invests in to encourage better management, looking at how the boards are structured, how they operate and how they make decisions, as well as the companies' stock performance.
However, Macht said CalPERS appears to be the first corporate investor to offer such criticism targeted at energy companies profiting from California's energy crisis. The CalPERS' board's decision came on a 7-4 vote.
"We're not going out there to solve the energy problem," Macht said. Rather, the system's delegation will warn companies that "you can win the battle and lose the war."
The Pacific Institute for Community Organization backed the proposal by state Treasurer Phil Angelides Monday and at a Capitol rally earlier this month.
CalPERS should divest itself of its energy company stocks if the companies don't respond to the retirement system's criticism, said PICO representative Howard Lawrence.
As of April, CalPERS was reported to hold more than $250 million of Enron stock, almost $153 million of Duke Energy, $90 million of El Paso Energy and $62 million in Reliant Energy.