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PG&E: The model of American-style hybrid-socialism

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POSTED April 5, 2009 5:57 a.m.
If your neighborhood socialist – aka congressmen, senators and legislators – used your tax dollars to prop up AIG while AIG was selling you a commodity that they kept hiking the price on, how would you react? And what if while you’re on a fixed income, in a wage freeze or have lost your job and the AIG division that you had no choice but to buy the commodity from gives its CEO a 5 percent increase to $8.7 million in compensation thanks in a large part to stock awards that your neighborhood socialist helped prop up and protect?

 You’d be threatening to grab pitch forks and torches ready to march on the capitol to get the compensation back while angrily question the bizarre policy of hybrid-socialism that is uncoiling before you.

Well, this is nothing new. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for years has given PG&E a sweeter deal than AIG. The CPUC essentially has taken all risks of the marketplace away from PG&E making a profit and shifted the burden to their favorite lackeys – taxpayers. In this case, though, they rationalize that ratepayers aren’t really taxpayers since they don’t have to buy electricity or natural gas from PG&E. Horse feathers. The alternative, of course, is simply not to use electricity or natural gas as the system very nicely protects PG&E and its profits from competition.

The folks who cobbled together the giant utilities in California including PG&E just 90 years ago by gobbling up smaller concerns such as Sierra and San Francisco Power Co. that served Manteca prior to 1920 did so while using protection offered by the State Rail Commission, the predecessor of the CPUC.

The CPUC – through the generosity of the California Legislature - gave the new quasi-public utilities vast government-like powers ranging from eminent domain to help them create huge profit centers – hydro-electric plants – by taking over free flowing rivers that once were the exclusive province of the people of California. The rationale, of course, was that we all benefit from inexpensive electricity.

Fast forward to the dawn of this century. PG&E and its kissing cousins San Diego Gas & Electric as well as Southern California Edison managed to sweet talk the legislature and CPUC into having its way with the pocketbooks of California consumers through deregulation.

They tried to make themselves seem magnanimous by offering five years of free use to any irrigation district that wanted to use their lines to ferry power purchased elsewhere so they could bring less expensive power to farming operations and rural cities. It was a ruse so brazen than when districts actually tried to take PG&E at its word they got burned. PG&E had no intention of honoring its commitment. And why should they? They have better protection than Guido – the CPUC and the California Legislature that PG&E has put on the equivalent of Ritalin with their massive campaign contributions.

Making it all worse is the PG&E hierarchy does it all on the backs of the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers and other blue collar workers. The IBEW members often risk their lives in stormy weather in some of the world’s most inhospitable terrain such as the north coast to keep California’s lights on and commerce flowing.

Guys like Peter Darbee – the current hybrid-socialist who is raking in $8.7 million a year while sitting in his comfy San Francisco office while everyone else does the work and risks their lives – gets rewarded for cutting expenses which means cutting jobs.

Yet, PG&E keeps raising rates and showing stronger profits while paying its top brass big bonuses in the middle of the most severe recessions since the Great Depression. It’s great work if you can get it.

Those Byzantine PG&E rate increase fillings at the CPUC always include the labor costs associated with moving natural gas and electricity. The CPUC always looks like the guardian of the public by whacking back requests before granting the rates.

Funny thing but such a dance happens two to five times a year yet PG&E never suffers because of the CPUC saying “no” to part of their rate increase proposals. Instead they keep showing profits and paying the likes of Darbee even more obscene levels of money. The reason is obvious. The rate increases requests are padded. PG&E knows it. The CPUC knows it. Everyone knows it.

So what did Darbee get in 2008 for the risk taking job of using the government to prop up rates and protect you from competition while cutting back rank-and-file workers? His base salary was $1.1 million, up 4 percent from 2007 – a jump that is about what a meter reader whose job he has decreed shall be eliminated makes in a year.

He also got a performance based bonus of $1.3 million – up 3 percent from 2007. Not bad pay for running a company with better protectionism (from the state) than wise guys give the typical mafia don. Then there was $6.5 million work of stock described as “an additional retention mechanism” for Darbee. You’ve got to wonder why a retention mechanism is needed as if anyone would want to leave a cushy job like Darbee’s.

The answer is obvious. Someone might just offer Darbee a job that has a better perk than PG&E such as the recently bought $12 million corporate jet.

You’ve got to love socialism, American style. You once over the masses and workers while padding the pockets not of the people who founded and took risks starting the company but of MBA elitists that essentially kissed rings on the way up the ladder to run hybrid-socialist corporations.
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