Just when you thought the nightmare known as PG&E couldn’t get worse, it does.
Gov. Gavin Newsom — the man PG&E fears the least — on Friday rolled out a plan to provide California’s for-profit electric companies with a “lifeline” against future wildfire liabilities.
The worst part is virtually every media report and politician that can protect the people in this state from the greedy, savage abuse of a corporation with monopolistic government protection gave PG&E cover.
The $10.5 billion wildfire liability revolving fund that Newsom wants to create and push through the legislature by July 12 sounds great. But the devil, as they say, is in the details.
Buried deep in wire service stories as well as major newspaper accounts and ignored in many TV reports is exactly who is on the hook for creating the $10.5 billion fund. Rest assured it’s not PG&E.
Would that surprise you as a ratepayer? It shouldn’t. On one hand you have a felony corporation that has left bodies all over Northern California for the last 9 years with another two decades of storied operations that would make Al Capone green with envy. On the other hand you have 120 people in Sacramento — many of whom have taken fat campaign donations from PG&E — that act as if their first concern is the survivability of PG&E as a for-profit company rather than 16 million Californians they have allowed the utility to victimize.
This actually is not the biggest affront to 40 percent of the state’s electorate including the most vulnerable who are poor families and the low-income elderly that will be severely stressed financially with PG&E rates going up at least 12 percent higher next year as well as being forced to pay a surcharge of $10.5 billion on their utility bills.
It is the second option Newsom has brokered that would create a $21 billion revolving wildfire fund. The ratepayers would have a surcharge of $10.5 billion and the utility companies would kick in another $10.5 billion presumably from their profits. Don’t hold your breath that PG&E et al won’t end up passing it on in a rate increase courtesy of their chums at the California Public Utilities Commission.
So what’s so twisted about the second option? Newsom is giving electric utilities the option to go with the $21 billion plan instead of the $10.5 billion. This means — in case you haven’t figured it out — you as ratepayer will have absolutely no choice but to fork over $10.5 billion in a surcharge on top of one of the nation’s highest electric bills that within months is destined to become the highest regardless of which option the utilities take.
Yet electric providers that have either been found culpable in sparking deadly wildfires by Cal Fire throughout the state or, in PG&E’s case, got out ahead of its liability by essentially admitting their aging, improperly maintained equipment sparked a fire that wiped out Paradise, killed 85 people, burned 14,000 homes to the ground and destroyed 5,000 other buildings so they could reduce their exposure to liability by using their admission to make a second strike against the people they harmed to justify filing bankruptcy, can say yeah or nay to the second option.
Does anyone in their right mind expect PG&E to take the second option? This would cut into what PG&E values most which is not customer safety. What they value more above anything else is profit and the ability of their top brass to pocket millions in bonus for overseeing a company that essentially could be the largest mass murderer in California history if they are prosecuted for reckless disregard of human life in the deaths of 85 people.
And let’s be clear what this means. It is a revolving fund. That means as payments are made for future wildfire liabilities it will be replenished. It will be like getting two PG&E bills a month for eternity.
Talk to those who work for companies PG&E has hired to clean up their mess. They’ve been told they could have work for up to 10 years to clear away trees and such from vulnerable power lines. That, by the way, doesn’t include the work of hardening the lines to make them significantly more fire resistant using technology that has existed for years.
Talk to PG&E retirees pushing 90 and they will tell you of working on company crews decades ago that were assigned to clearing trees and brush from under power lines cutting through wildfire areas in the Bay Area as well as the Sierra foothills. Then talk to PG&E line workers that will tell you the real dirty secret. They argued for years that PG&E was understaffing construction crews hence the huge delays in getting new power connections as well as reducing the number of crews for general maintenance. It was all part of the emboldened PG&E strategy to cut costs and push profits beyond the 10.5 percent they are guaranteed by state fiat on every $1 they charge. It happened after PG&E found that the state oversight agencies and legislatures were ineffective wimps after PG&E plunged us into rolling brownouts and skyrocketing rates the first time they pushed the company into bankruptcy and after the kids glove treatment they got for blowing up a San Bruno neighborhood and killing eight people.
Forgive Newsom for not being a champion of the poor working people of this state. When you are wealthy you don’t worry about whether you can pay the PG&E bill and make your rent payment. Nor do you worry much about home insurance costs going up.
That is what is happening to PG&E customers. They are facing a 12.1 percent hike in PG&E rates just in 2020. Most insurance companies hit hard by PG&E’s handiwork are pushing homeowners’ insurance premiums up by more than $100 a year. PG&E is now saying they will inflict financial pain on residents in cities far away from wildfire zones by de-energizing transmission lines for two to five days in severe wildfire conditions. And on top of that you are now facing a surcharge on your PG&E bill.
No one, you will note, has tossed about any numbers of what this might cost you as an individual ratepayer as tens of thousands of us might jump into our cars and drive to Sacramento and descend on the State Capitol manning the barricades and chanting “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.”
PG&E last year collected $16.7 billion in revenue from all sources including charges for new construction. The revolving fund that ratepayers will be on the hook for is $10.5 billion. Pull out your PG&E bill. Assuming that at least 40 percent of that surcharge will be on the back of PG&E ratepayers given 40 percent of the state’s 40 million customers are PG&E hostages that means roughly $4.2 billion will be on our collective backs. That is equal to 25 percent of all of PG&E’s current annual income.
Essentially Newsom’s solution is a 25 percent surcharge on your PG&E bill that will never go away. And if the revolving fund numbers are as accurate as what the state told us high speed rail would cost it shouldn’t surprise anyone if we end up with a 50 percent surcharge on our power bills going forward.
The answer is clear. PG&E needs to be broken up and municipalized. The plug needs to be pulled on PG&E before PG&E pulls the plug on the Northern California economy.
And if Sacramento doesn’t pull the plug on PG&E we need to pull the plug on people we send to the River City supposedly to look out for our best interests.