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COVID-19 pandemic & looting may be fleeting but we will always have PG&E
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PG&E is clearly no longer the for-profit utility it was back when Ready Kilowatt was the company mascot. Those were the days when PG&E used electricity to help customers power their homes instead of burn them down.

Got a spare $90 you don’t need?

California’s leading for profit-concern when it comes to burning up the state and admitting culpability in killing 130 customers at last count is going to be taken that much extra a year from a typical residential customer as it tries to be the safe and reliable provider of electricity they claimed to have been.

The $90 a year going forward is to pay for such things as making sure most of San Joaquin County isn’t plunged into darkness for five days if a major wildfire breaks out in Tuolumne or Calaveras counties that require shutting down the transmission line that slides through Manteca.

Per usual, PG&E is not meeting the state-imposed timetable for what needs to be done. That’s based on testimony PG&E Vice President Debbie Powell gave Thursday to the California State Senate Committee on Utilities.

Representatives of the California Public Utilities Commission — charged with protecting consumers from wanton actions of for-profit utilities by functions as if it were a subsidiary of PG&E — did not even bother to feign surprise. A real shocker would be PG&E being more than just a money machine for Wall Street investors and actually adhering to CPUC edicts.

No one — including PG&E’s most harsh critics that these days number about 16 million Californians still dependent upon them for power while praying they don’t burn down their town or blow up their neighborhood — wants to see PG&E fail to make the system safer. It would be akin to hoping for massive unemployment and the economy tanking just so your candidate can win an election.

However, the fact members of the legislature seem content just to conduct hearings for show instead of freeing 40 percent of Californians captive consumers of PG&E’s well-documented reptilian compulsion to maximize profit by minimizing safety should make you fear for your pocketbook and your lives. No matter what they say or how many months are torn from the calendar PG&E at its core is still the same company that blew up San Bruno, burned down Paradise, and poisoned the drinking water of Hinkley because of ingrained corporate culture DNA that makes decisions to cut corners to boost profits.

PG&E this week sent out press releases bragging about all it is doing to improve safety. Of course, they failed to mention they weren’t meeting targets that the corporate vice president was forced to admit on Thursday.

If you think PG&E — which is now in its second bankruptcy in 20 years — has seen the light (assuming it was not shutoff during a planned power outage) and is a changed company let’s do a little refresher course in PG&E Transgressions 101.

Did a high profile expose of corporate decisions to illegally dump toxic chemicals that ended up imperiling the health of dozens and virtually killing off a small Southern California community put PG&E on the straight and narrow?

Did getting caught repeatedly asking for rate increases to make safety improvements and replace aging infrastructure, using the money to pad profits, and then asking for funding in a subsequent rate increase to do the work they received funding to do but did not do change PG&E’s evil ways?

Did blowing up 36 homes and killing off eight customers suddenly makes PG&E more attentive to replacing aging or damaged equipment or lines whether it was in their natural gas or electric divisions?

Did their lines torching parts of Santa Rosa and the Napa Valley killing 22 people and destroying more than 5,400 structures make PG&E more vigilant in safety? If it did then explain the loss of Paradise and 85 lives a year later.

It is clear that PG&E’s corporate structure has a huge disconnect with not only what is happening on the ground within their own company but also the communities within its 70,000 square mile service area.

Once upon a time before cost cutting and profit maximizing kicked working closely with cities and the private sector in communities to the curb along with safety standards, PG&E had local area managers that were ombudsmen of sorts to make sure the country’s largest for-profit utility didn’t lose touch with the people they serve.

As PG&E structured this bankruptcy as well as its last one it is clear they serve Wall Street hedge funds first and foremost and then the little investors and customers.

PG&E’s self-indulging corporate hierarchy long ago abandoned the old model of being steady and reliable in a bid to reach for 20 percent and higher returns instead of the 11.5 percent profits the state guarantees them when the CPUC blesses rate increases. Their bid to play Enron’s game crashed the utility the first time it landed in bankruptcy court. Their betrayal of public trust by being granted a public protected monopoly with guaranteed profits by letting infrastructure deteriorate to avoid spending money they could then pocket put them back in bankruptcy court.

Where was the indignation backed up with a solid threat at the State Capitol on Thursday? This is a company that irresponsibly gambled in the energy markets to deliver its ratepayers the most expensive electricity in the land, has blown up or burned down at least 10,000 homes and other structures, helped kill 130 people, wiped out thousands of families’ belongings, and intentionally plunged millions into darkness for days.

Yet our elected leaders weren’t enraged. They were docile as usual, probably thinking of how they appreciate PG&E’s campaign contributions and rubbing shoulders with the utility’s brass at a retreat in Hawaii.

If Sacramento isn’t going to do 16 million Californians a favor by taking over the company’s electrical service and then allowing smaller non-profit regional and/or local agencies to divvy it up into smaller and more responsive entities, they could at least make sure PG&E doesn’t profit from its wanton destruction of property and lives.

A good place to start is to make sure that extra $90 we are all going to be paying starting next year to get PG&E out of their latest mess is cutback to $79. That would reflect the cost of the safety work they are doing minus the guaranteed 11.5 percent return that is basically a profit.

If course if they do that, the hedge fund people would pull out of the bankruptcy deal, collapse the company and force the state to actually do something to address the clear and present danger PG&E poses to lives, property, and the Northern California economy. If PG&E is granted $6 billion in rate hikes to get their system they diverted money for years back up to par with SMUD and other public power providers, that is a guaranteed $660 million return for hedge fund investors.

Unlike the economic damage caused by COVID-19 and looting that will eventually fade away, the carnage PG&E creates is with us 24/7, 365 days a year.

 

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com