By DENNIS WYATT
Manteca may join Ripon and Escalon on Tuesday in asking Gov. Gavin Newsom to meet with South County leaders in a bid to gain his support for a partial solution to help California deal with PG&E’s wildlife liabilities and bankruptcy by having South San Joaquin Irrigation District take over retail power operations that serve the three cities and surrounding farmland.
The City Council is being asked not just to reaffirm the city’s previous support of the SSJID proposal but also to have Mayor Ben Cantu sign letters that his counterparts in Escalon and Ripon are doing that will be sent to the governor and legislators to demonstrate the benefits of municipalizing retail power “not only of our communities in the Central Valley, but also as part of a global solution to the PG&E problem.”
Ironically also on Tuesday’s agenda is a PG&E presentation detailing their plan to cut off power to Manteca and much of San Joaquin County for a minimum of two days and as many as five days when extreme fire conditions warrant de-energizing the main transmission line that slashes through Manteca. City staff will then follow that up with a framework of an emergency plan they will activate when PG&E makes it clear pulling the plug on electricity will occur.
Going without power for even 12 hours will place serious strains on the municipal water and wastewater systems, knock out all traffic lights and street lights, make it impossible to pump gas, close schools and most businesses, put people dependent on medical devices relying on electricity at risk, as well as create a situation where curfews may become mandatory for the duration of the emergency.
The council meets at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St.
The SSJID has been formally pursuing the acquisition of the PG&E retail system as allowed under state law since 2004. The California Public Utilities Commission has gone on record saying it is a do-able undertaking for SSJID as have energy consultants handpicked by PG&E to try and block the SSJID effort at the San Joaquin Local Formation Commission. The CPUC also has indicated forming a municipal retail power agency under the umbrella of SSJID will not adversely impact PG&E customers that will remain with the for-profit San Francisco-based utility.
During that time frame PG&E bankrolled a $1 million political effort dubbed “Stop the Power Grab” that had an office in downtown Manteca that closed within a year after they went through the $1 million and were unable to change public opinion.
A contractor hired by PG&E with the intent of finding potential SSJID missteps during public meetings to undermine the retail power effort, hacked into the SSJID computers and downloaded proprietary information related of the district’s efforts to go into the retail power business and passed them onto their handlers at PG&E.
PG&E denied they had anything to do with the hack and refused to compensate SSJID for a forensic examination of their computer system that was conducted to determine the extent of district files that had been compromised. But then when the FBI indicated they would launch an investigation, PG&E cut SSJID a check in excess of $250,000 for costs the district incurred by the forensic audit while at the same time issuing a statement that they were not responsible for what was being framed as a for-profit entity engaging in the equivalent of corporate espionage with the target being a government agency.
After securing regulatory clearance and PG&E losing two back-to-back court decisions, SSJID on May 12, 2016 as required by state law sent PG&E a fair market offer as determined by an independent appraisal. That offer of $116 million for the distribution system in the 72,000-acre irrigation district included $92.7 million for facilities and $25.3 million for costs PG&E will incur during the conversion to SSJID.
PG&E formally rejected the offer on June 2, 2016.
The SSJID less than two weeks later got the eminent domain proceedings rolling that PG&E filed more lawsuits to try and stop.
The letter before the council reads as follows:
“As elected leadership representing the Cities of Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon, we implore your immediate attention to an ongoing, decades-long municipalization effort that we believe offers a partial solution to the situation that California is now grappling with in the wake of Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) wildfire liabilities, felony convictions, and now bankruptcy.
“The (SSJID) has fought to provide retail electric service to the communities of Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon since 2004. SSJID’s municipalization effort aims to supplant PG&E as the local electric utility and replace it with a transparent, responsive, safe, economical, and locally accountable utility that understands the needs and values of our communities.
PG&E has thwarted this project since its inception by engaging in disruptive public relations campaigns, propping up a local citizen resistance groups, and by injecting opposition into local approval processes for SSJID to exercise its latent power granted under the California Water Code to provide retail electric service to our region.
“In December 2014, with the support of our communities, SSJID finally received local approval from the San Joaquin County Local Agency Formation Commission (SJLAFCo) to provide retail electric service. SJLAFCo’s approval included an endorsement of the financial feasibility of SSJID’s retail electric project, certification of a project specific CEQA document, and economic protections for customers and the local economy upon transition of electric service from PG&E to SSJID.
“Interestingly, at the 2014 LAFCo hearing, PG&E touted its’ financial stability, responsiveness to disasters and safety record as reasons why our region shouldn’t rely on SSJID’s ability to provide public power, even after the events that transpired in San Bruno. More recent news regarding bankruptcy filings, PG&E’s culpability in starting wildfires including the 2018 Camp Fire, infractions of California Public Utilities Commission directives, and inability to promote safety among its workforce, all suggest that our region made the right call in authorizing SSJID’s retail electric project.
“Our region has long-experienced dissatisfaction with PG&E’s substandard service. Recent examples include an unexpected, year-long, public road closure due to delays in PG&E’s ability to complete the relocation of a gas main in the City of Manteca; delays in street light energizing in new home subdivisions aimed at meeting California’s housing crisis; and delays due to lack performance in providing temporary power to support construction of new, large-scale resort employer committed to the Central Valley. And now, our residents and businesses are being told that their power may be shut off for up to 5 days at a time during the hottest part of summer, prompting significant public health and safety concerns in our communities. The lack of service to our customers and communities continues, with “bankruptcy” now used by PG&E as the scapegoat for poor service.
“SSJID has done all of the necessary work to prepare for condemnation and subsequent operation of PG&E’s system within its service territory. SSJID has developed a detailed inventory and valuation of the relevant portion of the PG&E system, formulated a business plan, engineered a separation plan that maintains service for PG&E customers that would remain were SSJID to take over service within District boundaries, made an offer of purchase to PG&E, and initiated a condemnation action to purchase PG&E assets when the company indicated its assets were not for sale. Even with local approvals, PG&E filed suit against SJLAFCo’s decision, and was successful in stalling SSJID’s condemnation action. Both lawsuits are on appeal now, but we believe the current situation with PG&E presents an opportunity for SSJID’s project to move forward.
“The concept of municipalizing specific PG&E-served areas that are ready and willing to shoulder the responsibility of serving their own communities while meeting California’s renewable energy and climate goals, should be given strong consideration as a solution to the current PG&E problem. Municipalization provides an opportunity to generate capital to address wildfire liabilities through sale of PG&E assets, makes PG&E more efficient for remaining utility customers by incrementally reducing PG&E’s size, and incentivizes a reorganized PG&E (or its successor) to develop and implement a proper corporate culture that prioritizes safety and capital improvement to avoid future catastrophes.”
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com