If you are a typical PG&E residential customer as opposed to the ones they’ve killed by blowing them up or burning them to death, the for-profit utility is now coming after you.
They now want to shake you down for $10.57 more a month in 2000. That includes almost $1.10 more they will be able to pocket as guaranteed profit under California Public Utilities Commission rules.
For anyone doing the math, that means your PG&E bill will go up by 12.4 percent or $126.84 in 2020 with just under $14 of that collected for their guaranteed profits. This will bring PG&E an estimated $1.058 billion in additional revenue in 2020 and increase their state guaranteed profits by $105 million. No wonder Wall Street investors are so eager to take over PG&E now that it has filed bankruptcy to avoid being sued into oblivion. Not only does PG&E have a captive customer base but they are guaranteed by the government that is supposedly “for the people” of pocketing at least 10.5 percent as profit.
The CPUC, which as a supposed government watchdog for consumers has been asleep while the wolves of 555 Beale St. in San Francisco raided the proverbial hen house, is launching a series of public forums on PG&E’s rate request. It’s more like a marketing stunt designed to help the CPUC save face by acting like they will take comments from ratepayers to heart while the record shows unless an outside entity such as the South San Joaquin Irrigation District spends close to $1 million to hire experts to go through rate increase proposals with a fine tooth comb the regulatory commission always gives PG&E everything their greedy little heart desires.
The PG&E Apology Tour starts July 9 at CPUC headquarters. For the first time ever it includes a stop in Butte County in July 17 where the utility that CPUC has cowered before for decades stands accused — and admits to — transmission equipment that they ignored rank-and-file requests to be repaired for safety reasons for years likely started a wildfire that killed 85 people, destroyed 14,000 homes and came close to wiping the Town of Paradise off the face of the earth.
That stop comes after a July 17 dog and pony show in Stockton at the State of California Building Auditorium, 31 E. Channel St., at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Perhaps the CPUC will come up with some clever retort if someone asks them why they never bothered to require PG&E to have safety cutoffs along key transmission lines so communities such as Manteca can keep the lights on when PG&E in the upcoming wildfire season needs to de-energize the transmission line that slices through Manteca when conditions are perfect for PG&E equipment that hasn’t been properly maintained to make sure profits were robust to turn places like Arnold into toast.
Given PG&E has made it clear they may have to cut power off to all of Manteca for up to five days when fire conditions are extreme some 40 to 100 miles away at least once a year, losses to the private sector could easily eclipse $5 million. If the 25,000 PG&E residential customers in Manteca lost on average $80 in perishable foods during a prolonged outage that comes to a $2 million hit alone. Add commercial losses and — if the timing is all wrong — the loss of crops by farmers that rely on well water that requires electricity to pump — that $5 million starts to look like a bargain.
The CPUC will also stage a hearing in the Napa-Sonoma Wine Country on July 31 where they probably expect a little bit more of a friendlier crowd given PG&E has been accused in starting some of the wildfires that only killed 24 people and only destroyed more than 5,000 homes in 2017.
People who attend the CPUC hearings have as much of a chance to sway the regulators appointed to protect consumers as Congressional member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has of being Donald Trump’s running mate in 2020.
Not only does the CPUC take every request from PG&E at face value but its staff is less than diligent about shifting through the details of PG&E rate requests as SSJID found out when they were able to provide evidence a few years back that forced the CPUC not to bless tens of millions in a rate hike request.
Not only is the CPUC a lapdog instead of a watchdog when it comes to PG&E but they are a blind lapdog to boot.
Consider the fact PG&E convinced regulators almost 20 years ago to put rate increases in place that would allow them funds to replace 46,000 power poles annually. That was based on their 2.3 million power poles at the time that PG&E indicated had a life expectancy averaging 50 years.
PG&E then did what they do best once they got funds in a rate hike that goes on for perpetuity to replace 46,000 power poles a year — they diverted the money.
The utility replaced 15,000 poles in 2002 and another 15,000 in 2003. That’s 61,000 less poles than they told the CPUC they’d replace if they got the rate hike.
It gets better — and worse for those who live in fear of PG&E equipment burning them out of their homes and killing their loved ones. In 2004 they cut replacement pole work down to 3,000 — or less than 10 percent they promised to do each year as part of the ongoing rate increase they were granted.
PG&E when they were caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jars simply told regulators they had “shifted resources to higher priority work” without identifying what that work was. Anyone want to take a guess? Six figure bonuses for top executives, profit margins beyond the state-guaranteed 10.5 percent, and multi-million golden parachutes for CEOs that drive the company into the ground would be good answers.
So you understand the game CPUC and PG&E are playing, the CPUC made you as a customer pay for new PG&E poles. PG&E doesn’t install them. That pushes the cost of doing the actual work farther out. The money they “save” inflates their profits. Then they come back and ask for another rate increase to replace those same power poles that now cost perhaps 20 percent more to replace. That way PG&E is able to secure a higher profit per pole replacement as inflated costs per pole increases the actual dollar value of that 10.5 percent guaranteed profit.
A few years back at PG&E’s reduced rate of unsafe pole replacement that the utility got funding for to replace its 2.3 million poles over the course of half a century — 46,000 poles times 50 years equals 2.3 million poles — it was estimated it would take more than 700 years to replace that many power poles.
Perhaps had the pole and related equipment that sparked the Butte County Fire has been replaced on time, we would not be facing a 12.4 percent rate hike next year.
A rate hike, by the way, that rewards PG&E for dishonesty and delaying critical safety work.
PG&E essentially has found a sure-proof way to profit from killing off customers, blowing up neighborhoods, and burning entire cities to the ground.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.