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Wall Street is Coming After Our Utilities. It’s Time to Fight Back.

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The movement for energy democracy and the fight against corporate, for-profit control over basic utilities like electricity, gas, and water has escalated over the past several years. Catastrophes from California wildfires to the Texas winter freeze to the poisoned water of Flint, Michigan have all intensified demands for just, transparent, and democratically-owned utilities and universal access to the basic resources they provide. Our recently-released Power Lines project documented some local campaigns around utilities in Detroit, Chicago, and Washington DC.

But there’s another growing threat to the fight for energy democracy: new attempts by Wall Street – including big banks and private equity – to gain control over investor-owned utilities. If you’ve seen what these financial vultures have done to things like nursing homes, retail stores, and housing in order to extract profits – slashing budgets, firing workers, skirting safety rules, piling up debt, raising costs for consumers – you should be very worried about them getting their paws on the utilities we all need to survive.

This post highlights two recent and alarming reports that show how Big Finance is going after municipal utilities, reflecting trends that portend trouble for achieving more equitable, democratic utilities that meet human needs.

Private equity vultures are circling around utilities

Over the last several years we’ve seen the rise of private equity ownership in an array of industries from retail to hospitals to correctional telecom. In just the first six months of 2021 alone, private equity firms raised nearly $460 billion in capital from pensions, endowments, and high net worth individuals for their funds, which they will use to snap up private companies and assets. A recent report in The American Prospect revealed that these funds, sensing the opportunity to exploit the new infrastructure deal and lure in struggling cities, are increasingly eying under-regulated municipal utilities.

In one 2020 example, Louisiana-based private equity firm Bernhard Capital Partners approached city council members in Fayetteville, NC and offered to spend hundreds of millions on much needed infrastructure repairs and improvements in exchange for the right to operate the city’s public utilities – water and power – for 30........

© Eyes on the Ties

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