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CPUC should force sale of the entire PG&E system

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POSTED September 29, 2011 1:38 a.m.

PG&E’s disaster du jour happened in a city where they are not the power supplier.

PG&E is just the natural gas provider.

Tuesday one of Roseville’s main thoroughfares caught on fire sending flames shooting up six feet into the air through several lanes of traffic. Fortunately, it was only a 4-inch distribution line and not a transmission line as in San Bruno. Had it been a bigger line, a good section of Roseville would have been history given there is a gas station just yards from where the street was burning.

In case anyone at the California Public Utilities Commission really cares about public safety, there was a gas leak in the same line some 150 feet away from Tuesday’s asphalt BBQ back in September of last year.

The City of Roseville, by the way, runs its own power department that provides electric kilowatt per hour rates considerably lower than PG&E’s. That also has allowed Roseville to enjoy significant economic growth that has helped it weather the last recession and the current one much better than many other communities. Large electrical users tend to be large employers.

You should note that PG&E’s backbone - the men and women who are out in the elements making sure energy keeps flowing in heat, storms, and at night dutifully responded and did their job.

If you read the scathing 140-page National Transportation Safety Board report on the San Bruno debacle you will quickly understand that the men and women who wear PG&E blue didn’t let customers down. The corporate suits did.

The report details numerous times over the past 60 years where the frontline folks reported problems with the San Bruno line but nothing was done.

It is painfully obvious that the corporate culture from the top down was on one that put cutting expenses above safety. It is how a public utility can calculate the cost of investing in natural gas line safety features against the potential loss of life and property if an incident occurs.

PG&E’s corporate sleight of hand goes way beyond the natural gas division. Electrical rate increases granted by the CPUC are riddled with surprises such as ratepayers being charged twice for replacement the same power poles. Then one replacing forget the biggest travesty that the corporate folks at PG&E helped pull off - power deregulation.

They pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes with making promises of lower rates. They like to blame Enron and the ilk but remember PG&E sold itself to itself so it could re-depreciate its assets - and reduce their taxes - as well as charge customers for PG&E essentially acquiring itself.

And they do all of this as a protected monopoly with an 11.35 percent guaranteed return. That is a higher “profit margin” than probably most every business they serve in Northern California.

Keep in mind that PG&E is the worst major utility in California in terms of blackouts and service complaints. This has nothing to do with the PG&E rank and file but everything to do with the folks in San Francisco.

It should be painfully obvious by now that PG&E’s corporate structure has shirked their basic responsibilities as a public utility when it comes to safety and how they operate.

The CPUC must pursue something much more radical than multi-million dollar fines.

It is time to force the sale of entire PG&E system to a responsible corporation.

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