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PG&E? Lie? Now that’s a real shocker

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POSTED July 31, 2014 12:10 a.m.

uPG&E did not pay any taxes between 2008 and 2010 despite scoring $4.1 billion in profits. During that same time they received $1 billion in tax rebates. It was all thanks to a $79 million lobbying effort of politicians by the firm that last summer spent $10 million on a “we lost our way” advertising campaign to improve their public image.

uDuring that time PG&E raised its pay for its top five executives in 2010 by 94 percent to $8.5 million.

uMounting federal and state evidence points to PG&E putting profits above safety to set the stage for the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion that killed eight, injured three dozen, and leveled an entire neighborhood.

uPG&E is one of the few corporations ever to have criminal charges filed against them.

uFor years, PG&E allowed the chemical hexavalent chromium to seep into the water of Hinkley endangering the health of residents.

uPG&E bankrolled a statewide ballot measure in 2010 to amend the California constitution to protect its monopoly by making it extremely difficult if not impossible for anyone – private concern or local government – to start an electrical utility that could charge less for power than PG&E. The voters rejected the measure.

uThe Fair Political Practices Commission has fined PG&E a number of times for illegal campaign contributions aimed at defeating efforts for municipalities to start their own public utilities. They were typically at the last minute and were made in such a manner to mislead the public about where the money was coming from. The FPPC slapped the biggest fine ever for a City of San Francisco campaign violation on PG&E – $800,000 –  for their misleading tactics in a 2002 election that would have broken the company’s stranglehold on the SF retail power market.

uPG&E played a pivotal role in convincing three swing votes in the legislature to deregulate public power in California on the promise it would improve service and reduce power rates. PG&E followed up on its promise by doing everything possible to position itself for greater profit by first creating an out-of-state  holding company to sell all of its assets to itself so they could charge ratepayers again for the cost of putting in power plants, dams, and power lines as well as use them again as tax write-offs. Then they plunged California into darkness with rolling brown outs while jacking up the price of retail power up. By the time they were reigned back in, some experts say Californians lost close to $45 billion.

uThe recklessness of deregulation sent PG&E toward bankruptcy. So how did people get rewarded? Ratepayers got higher rates while the top brass at PG&E got $12 million in bonuses plus a new corporate jet. PG&E’s valued employees – the ones that really keep the lights on – were rewarded with wage freezes and loss of jobs that resulted in a further deterioration of service thanks to manpower being reduced to pad executive pockets.

uPG&E – along with San Diego Power & Electric, plus Southern California Edison – were able to get those three swing votes in the legislature by promising to provide irrigation districts with an extended period where they would be free of competitive transmission charges (CTC) – the cost of moving power bought elsewhere over PG&E lines – so they could enter the retail power business for the expressed purpose of reducing sky high agricultural power rates. The only entity in the state that determined it could afford to enter retail power – the South San Joaquin Irrigation District – was blocked repeatedly by PG&E from using the CTC exemptions. Two included plans PG&E tentatively agreed to include an inter-tie with the PG&E system at the former Heinz plant in Tracy and north of Manteca near Delicato Vineyards that they then turned around and torpedoed.

uPG&E paid the SSJID close to $300,000 in a settlement after a firm it hired to keep tabs on SSJID’s public efforts to enter into the retail power business used wireless technology to hack into SSJID computers to retrieve confidential information regarding their retail power plans. Until they paid up, PG&E insisted they had done no wrong.

uPG&E has repeatedly failed to make improvements that the California Public Utilities Commission granted them rate increases to perform such as replace power lines. The SSJID in one instance spent nearly $1 million in Tri-Dam receipts to hire experts and lawyers a bid to tear apart a recent PG&E rate hike request. By the time the dust settled the SSJID effort was able to convince the PUC a large chunk of the rate hike wasn’t justified saving those in the SSJID territory millions over the course of the coming years as well as those elsewhere in PG&E territory.

uPG&E – with the apparent help of the San Joaquin County Local Agency Formation Commission staff – for the past five-plus years has successfully stonewalled bids by SSJID to get a clearance to go into the retail power business to lower rates to customers in Manteca, Escalon, and Ripon by 15 percent, saving a collective $12 million annually and to spur economic growth in a county still stung by double-digit unemployment.

And all of that is for starters.

So was anyone surprised when federal prosecutors this week charged PG&E with obstruction by lying to regulators and investigators in the aftermath of the fatal San Bruno explosion?

The latest criminal indictment has 27 felonies and replaces a previous one that had only 12 counts and no obstruction charge.

It’s just another day for PG&E’s top brass.


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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