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PG&E needs to be put down just like the rabid dog it has become
Paradise burn
What was left of the Ridgeway Mobile Home Park in Paradise after the fire sparked by poorly maintained PG&E lines destroyed more than 15,000 homes and killed 84 people five years ago.

PG&E is California’s ultimate Rorschach Test.

Perceptions of the power grid’s Evil Empire equivalent — with a big helping of Enron-style greed and Wolf of Wall Street rabies — is the ultimate shrink test for 16 million Californians.

Those 16 million people are the victims not simply of PG&E’s modern-era history of greed and malfeasance that led it to confessing to 85 felonies — one for each customer their inactions over decades killed in Paradise five years ago — but Sacramento’s raging incompetence.

Last week, it was clear that PG&E is like a rabid dog that needs to be put down.

They will not stop until they get what they want. Billions upon billions more than the record $13.8 billion rate increase they were granted just last month.

If you think that PG&E is going to stop asking for more money — and getting it from their soulmates at the California Public Utilities Commission — with their request for a follow-up “emergency” $2 billion rate hike in March, then you likely believe Ronald Reagan stole the 1980 presidential election from Jimmy Carter.

Put aside, for the moment, PG&E’s culpability in at least 92 deaths — including the 8 customers they blew up in San Bruno in 2010 as well as turning hundreds of square miles of forests into charred remnants.

What you are asked to put aside isn’t small.

Decades of neglect in replacing aging power line apparatus.

A well-documented systematic failure to properly control vegetation beneath power lines’ right of way.

Top management creating a culture where mid-management routinely ignored or dismissed reports of needed replacement work.

Operating natural gas pressure levels in lines above what they were rated for and covering it up by essentially cooking record keeping, which is how PG&E got put on federal probation for its San Bruno inferno.

Failing to provide adequate staffing of construction crews — whose work is paid for by developers, farmers, other customers, and local jurisdictions and not ratepayers. That has resulted in new work sometimes taking a year or more to get done.

Asking for rate increases to replace power lines, diverting the money for profit, and then in at least one case they were caught asking a second time for a rate hike to replace poles that they promised to do with a previous rate hike but never did.

These aren’t “oops” or just bad luck.

They are well-documented deliberate acts.

And they have provided a convenient smokescreen literally from wildfires to give political cover for Sacramento to not get at the root of what ails California.

The insurance crisis is one example.

The reason why wildfires are getting more deadly has more to do with governance stupidity dating back to the 1950s when California’s sonic boom era of growth started than climate change.

Due to the inability to address urban sprawl and housing needs, the “interface” of development in wild land areas that have been subject to wildfires for longer than any one — including as long as indigenous Californians have lived on this part of the earth — has exploded.

This has let it a cycle of big burns and big rebuilds.

It is a big cost item for insurance companies.

And it is why California insurance rates are in a race with hurricane plagued Florida insurance rates to reach the outer limits of the stratosphere.

It also exposes PG&E’s profit driven cabal of Wall Street hedge fund managers to liability.

The solution as expressed by the just granted $13.8 billion rate hike, the request for another $2 billion last week, and billions of more in rate hikes to come is to make PG&E ratepayers universally responsible for “fortifying” the PG&E grid to reduce the company’s financial liability from wildfires.

Making ratepayers in Manteca, Firebaugh, Lathrop, Hilmar, and Ripon that and nowhere near wildfire zones foot the bill for reducing wildfires by PG&E’s moon shot line fortification proposal that ratepayers are footing and not the profit margin of stockholders is wildly unfair.

It would be the same thing as imposing an access fee at all state and public beaches along the California coast to underwrite the rebuilding or fortification of coastline in places like Malibu where homes of multi-millionaires are routinely destroyed by the forces of nature.

The are some areas that people clearly have no business building homes. Everyone else shouldn’t pay for their decision to put “stunning vistas” and million dollar views above practicality and common sense.

Yet, Sacramento is not addressing that in terms of development policies.

Government’s failure to be guardians of public safety through development pattens it controls is as much at fault — if not more so — for wildfire calamities than PG&E.

PG&E’s actions in the lead up to its two bankruptcies in 20 years also helps provide cover for the consequences of Sacramento’s energy strategy.

PG&E strong-armed key legislators for partial deregulation with the promise they would make it easy for irrigation districts such as the South San Joaquin Irrigation District to enter the retail electricity business during a set time period.

SSJID was the only such district that determined it was positioned to take advantage of that part of the enabling deregulation legislation.

It was a classic example of the PG&E way of turning a promise - this one codified by adopted legislation — into a lie.

Partial deregulation of how energy was bought was supposed to take PG&E from its State of California guarantee of almost 11 percent in annual returns into Enron-style profits of 20 percent plus.

That led to the first bankruptcy and jacked up rates to get PG&E out of the hole they dug.

At the same time, the state mandated PG&E et al to switch to more green power.

To be clear, that is not a bad thing.

What was a bad thing was Sacramento imposing the requirement with a mandated deadline to do so when both solar and wind industries were still in their early infancy.

In order to lock in needed green power to meet state mandates, PG&E inked long-term contracts that — as the supplies of solar and wind power expanded — meant 16 million Californians were paying for green electricity at a higher price point than the rest of the country.

PG&E didn’t care.

And why should they?

The higher cost of procuring green power with the mandated blessing of Sacramento not only meant higher electricity costs for costumers but increased PG&E profits proportionately.

And then Sacramento outdid themselves by requiring PG&E to buy excess electricity from roof top solar systems that is at a higher price point that other wholesale electricity.

The cost was covered not by digging into PG&E profits.

It was absorbed in higher rates paid by non-solar PG&E customers.

PG&E, in turn, made higher profits off the higher prices.

The madness needs to stop.

And the only way to do that is for Sacramento to come up with a plan to break up the corporate monster they created to prey on 16 million Californian residents.

It can be done via public-sector based power districts.

Just ask Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, Modesto Irrigation District, Turlock Irrigation District, and even a small remote concern in the heart of wildfire county in the form of the Trinity Public District.

California doesn’t need half-baked decrees and governance from Sacramento.

And it doesn’t need PG&E.

This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at