SLO Tribune’s growing credibility problem

January 22, 2020

OPINION by RICHARD SCHMIDT

What happens when a community’s newspaper abdicates its responsibility to watchdog local government and seek the truth? You get the messy arrogant cliquish partisan exclusionary faction-serving politics we have in San Luis Obispo instead of government that works in the interests of all.

Recently the Tribune had a long article headlined, in its online presentation, “SLO and Morro Bay now receive cleaner energy, and it’s cheaper, officials say.”

Under a photo below the headline was the caption “Monterey Bay Community Power is now provided [sic] electricity to San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay from green sources . . .” One surmises that means “is now providing” green electricity.

Then the story began: “A new way of receiving cleaner power . . . has arrived in San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, and it will significantly reduce carbon emissions . . .”

Not only that, the story asserted, MBCP customers “will pay $3 to $10 less per month.”

Mayor Heidi “Harmon added that the change for SLO will remove 20,000 metric tons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere.”

Sprinkled throughout the Tribune article are terms like “cleaner,” “renewable,” “carbon-free,” “clean energy,” “green” and “energy resilience and reliability” to describe the power we’ll get from MBCP.

The article is sourced 100 percent from a single ideological source, the conjoined triplets SLO, Morro Bay and MBCP and SLO’s familial siblings, the SLO Chamber of Commerce and the SLO Climate Coalition, a private club and adjunct of the SLO Progressives that’s been granted permission – unknown to the public — to drive city climate policy.

One never gets a hint MBCP’s arrival is swathed in controversy, nor does the article include any fact checking on the extraordinary environmental claims being made by its single political source.

* * * *

And therein lies the article’s factualness problem and the Tribune’s credibility problem.

All of the claims about the coming of green power, our access to cleaner power or carbon-free power, MBCP’s reducing carbon emissions on our behalf – all those claims are false.

• Nobody is delivering or receiving cleaner energy.

SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon

• Nobody is removing 20K tons of carbon emissions. The precise number of emission tons prevented by our MBCP participation is zero. By uncritically repeating political mendaciousness as fact, the Tribune is lying to us.

The only claim that isn’t manifestly unfactual is the claim of savings, though even that is exaggerated since this year to get the $3 per month discount dangled as the low end of discounts you’d have close to $200 per month bills. I sure don’t. Do you? Further, MBCP admits these savings are only a “goal,” not a promise or certainty.

The root of the Tribune’s lie is that MBCP will deliver no power to us. How could they when they have no power lines to do so?

So, whatever MBCP is selling us, it’s not a different type of power that will arrive at our homes.

We, and our PG&E-served neighbors, will receive identical power. That power will not be carbon-free. About 40 percent, perhaps more, will be carboniferous, with most coming from natural gas, but some coming from coal. That’s because this is what’s in our power lines, the so-called “California mix.”

The Tribune either doesn’t understand what MBCP does, or doesn’t care to make that as clear as the political propaganda it spews. MBCP is nothing more than a power broker, which means they buy power on the market and resell it. We are who they’re reselling it to, but reselling doesn’t mean they deliver anything to us. It’s merely a paper transaction.

What they’ve done in our name is buy “clean” power on the power market. Their power portfolio has a lower percentage of renewables than PG&E’s portfolio, something you’d never guess from the political hype about “green MBCP, bad PG&E.” Two-thirds of MBCP’s portfolio is old Pacific Northwest hydro, some dating to New Deal days. Their renewables are also existing, not new, renewables.

It’s important to understand the global warming significance of old hydro and preexisting renewables. If a power provider is to reduce global carbon emissions, it must create new carbon-free power to replace existing carboniferous power. Simply putting a new ownership name on old carbon-free power, as MBCP has done, accomplishes nothing towards reducing global warming. It’s greenwash to claim otherwise.

Thus Mayor Harmon’s story that arrival of MBCP “will remove 20,000 metric tons of carbon” from our air is utter nonsense.

* * * *

The Tribune’s article was based on a publicity stunt akin to a ribbon cutting. Journalists call such stunts “pseudo-events” because they are stunts staged to induce fake news. Good print journalists ignore pseudo-events. New Times ignored this one. The Tribune went in full bore, delivering to its readers stunt propaganda indistinguishable from a paid public relations operative’s verbal mischief.

Unfortunately, this is typical of what the Tribune has become. It now eschews watchdogging.

Instead it sides with city hall’s establishment to block exposing inconvenient truths.

I got this thrown in my face several years back. The SLO city council blatantly violated the Brown Act in a manner that harmed my neighborhood. So 20-some of us submitted a Brown Act “fix-it” letter to the council, calling them out on their obviously carefully-scripted non-
inadvertent violation and demanding they undo their improper action.

Twenty-some upstanding citizens accusing the city of violating the law and demanding redress is by any definition news. Furthermore, the Brown Act is mother’s milk to the news media, with its prohibition of secretive and other improper dealings that might obstruct news reporting. If ever there’s a misdeed mandating media follow-up, it’s a well-substantiated alleged violation of the Brown Act.

I sent a copy of our fix-it letter to the Tribune. In response there was no reporting, but instead an email from the city hall reporter declaring there was no Brown Act violation because the city attorney, who had been party to the Brown Act violation, had told him there was no violation.

Sorry, Tribune, but that’s not how responsible journalism works. Your job isn’t to decide a legal matter or to take sides, it’s to report what’s happening. “News” isn’t what city hall tells a reporter it is. You’re supposed to be a watchdog, not the city’s lapdog.

* * * *

The Tribune’s mendacious MBCP “news” story should never have happened with best practices journalism.

Rule #1 of reporting is never accept anything at face value. Question everything.

The reason for this isn’t to be an obnoxious reporter. It’s to make sure you understand, and to uncover facts. Questioning even the simplest thing may make clear the reporter’s assumptions and understandings about a story need modification. It might also open up a new story the reporter didn’t recognize was there.

In the MBCP story, there are things so obviously in need of questioning it’s shocking they survived writing and editing unexamined. For example, Mayor Harmon claims MBCP will remove 20,000 tons of greenhouse gases. Even the dimmest observer knows Harmon doesn’t
know the difference between 2K tons, 20K tons or 200K tons of carbon.

Somebody told her to say that. So, the question becomes where did that number come from, and how was it arrived at? I suspect it would turn out to be unsubstantiated as fact, in which case an honest story
might report: “Mayor Harmon said MBCP will prevent emitting 20,000 tons of carbon, a number she said came from MBCP, but upon questioning by a reporter MBCP admitted such carbon savings are unsubstantiated and may actually be zero.”

Your job, Tribune, is to inform your readers, not make the mayor happy by repeating as fact everything she says. She has Facebook for the latter.

A second thing even the dimmest observer might ask is does MBCP have its own power lines, and, if not, how exactly do its customers get power different from that received by PG&E customers next door? This would quickly dispose of the entire myth MBCP is supplying us with anything special.

Such questioning of all the major claims about MBCP’s “arrival” would unveil the house of cards our politicos are falsely claiming will save the earth. That’s a very different story from the one the Tribune spun.

The function of a community newspaper is to look out for the community’s members, particularly as government affects them.

Unfortunately the Tribune has reversed that function and become city hall’s press agent, even when doing so causes it to misinform its readers.

Our newspaper has become an unabashed stenographer for city propaganda not the sort of newspaper any of us need. And that, for an
old newspaper lover like myself, is very sad to see.


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r0y

I didn’t even know one could opt out. All you need is your PG&E account info and enter it here:

https://www.mbcommunitypower.org/opt-out/ thanks for pointing this out. Some of us work a lot to try and stay afloat living here, and do not have the time and luxury to follow the tsunami of stupid that is quite often the government.


KAG2020

“Growing problem”? Ha! Understatement of the year. They have been long past the credibility threshold. They have NO credibility at al and haven’t for years!


Niles Q

And they just increased the cost of a weekday paper to $2! The S.O.B.s…

Any savings from MBCP comes from them not getting as much of a profit as PG&E, which has lots of shareholder mouths to feed.

But saving money’s not the point of it all anyway. The point as I understand it is to create demand for carbon-free power, just as the mandatory recycling in the form of a charge on your garbage bill and a blue wheeler was supposed to jump start the recycling markets, which of course have now collapsed.

MBCP is not mandatory. Customers can opt out of it if they want. I suggest closely watching your bills over the next few months and if it isn’t saving you any money, if it’s costing you more, then get out of it. It’s called free will and you are free to exercise it if you choose, at least until Governor Gruesome makes it mandatory.


Jorge Estrada

MBCP is a great idea if you want to pay someone else too. You will likely use less power because you will have more mouths to feed and, then again, you will free up power for more houses and people. I wonder if MBCP had to do an EIR for their project and the consequences to be mitigated?

You don’t have to wonder why we save power, ride bicycles and use less water. The limited resources need to be conserved to afford the needed growth required for the growing cost of government. On Martin Luther King Day the Freeway were almost empty, guess you know were the jobs are, that simple.


kettle

“for the growing cost of government.” I know right?


“three years into Trump’s first term as president, the national debt increased by $3 trillion” MBCP is chump change compared to what thew gop is costing the citizens of America.


” You will likely use less power because you will have more mouths to feed” Wtf are you going on about?


derasmus

Jorge, what are you talking about?


obispan

Well put. I questioned MBCP about their all carbon-free claims on Congalton’s show, they denied making such. When I pointed that they had, they said that was mistaken and they wouldn’t do so again. As soon as I hung up they were touting 100% carbon-free power,all day, everyday, all non-carbon-free power was at the hands of PG&E. PG&E is required to provide as much carbon-free power as possible, and yes 4-9pm we will be burning natural gas that would otherwise be flared off. Better off at near 100% AFUE at our homes than 35% at Heidi Harmon’s electricity generating gas plants for her inefficient heat pumps and induction stoves. And she doesn’t even just require building for future electric, which would be reasonable, she bans gas piping now.


horse_soldier

We’re happy to say we recently opted out of MCBP, and The Trib long ago.


Paso_citizen

Why anyone would be shocked or surprised at the Fibune’s one-sided and slanted ‘reporting’ is beyond me. What does shock and surprise me is that they still peddle enough copies of their rag to still be in business. For God’s sake, do as I (and thousands of others) have done – cancel subscribing to this rag – do not buy copies – do not read copies – allow it to die.


RememberWhen

At least their news worthy articles are written and posted in a timely manner


acooper

This article inspired me to do a little research (hopefully unbiased) on this subject. I think the myth of carbon-free power is based on the false assumption that our power will now move over a pre-specified, contracted path of transmission lines from the non-renewable sourced generator to the customer. This is not the case. It would also appear that the power coming to San Luis Obispo in 2030 will amount to no more than 50% renewable energy. Why? Because that is our Statewide target, and yes, unless our community choice aggregator decides to build its own transmission lines servicing its own customers (highly unlikely), we are required to feed off of the State’s power grid. The only advantage to being a member of a community choice aggregator is that a larger portion of our utility bill may go toward the construction of more non-renewable sources.


horse_soldier

Does that go for Matt Fountain stealing someone else’s story and claiming it was he did the work?


KAG2020

No kidding!


SLO_Children_at_play

Well, as “timely” as a “local” newspaper that’s printed in Fresno can be.


Tell me, would you buy seafood at all if you were required to turn in your order by Noon on Tuesday, to receive fish shipped from Fresno by 9am on Wednesday?


Perhaps poor timing for buying fish, but that’s where our local fish wrap comes from.