Pinocchio Gas & Electric — also known as PG&E — has been caught in another of a never ending string of whoppers.
An administrative law judge last week upped a California Public Utilities Commission fine of $65 million to $110 million for PG&E lying about their compliance with the Locate and Mark program.
Utilities under California law have two working days to locate and mark their under gas and electric lines through the Underground Service Alert 811 system.
Compliance is designed to assure public safety — something that clearly isn’t a top PG&E priority — before a third party does excavation work.
Lo and behold PG&E lied to the CPUC — imagine that — about how often it was late in meeting the minimum requirements. PG&E once they were caught not complying with state law the PG&E way which is essentially just lie and say you did it, admitted to falsifying documents to say they performed the required tasks in a timely manner. They even conceded that their inability to even get the Locate and Mark program right led to third parties after they did what they were supposed to do ending up digging into PG&E lines because PG&E decided the best way to comply with a state law was simply ignoring it. Fortunately instead of blowing up a whole neighborhood and killing eight people or burning down almost an entire town and killing 85 people PG&E’s profit first mentality only resulted to the injury of a City of San Jose employee.
The Locate and Mark fibbing occurred between 2012 and 2017.
Keep in mind this was after they promised “to do better” after they blew up the San Bruno neighborhood in 2010 and killed 8 people.
PG&E does a lot of apologizing to allow the State of California to let them get away with what some may say is almost murder so they can stay in business and keep raking in the dough.
The PG&E brass also promised “to do better” also after their equipment sparked a fire that took out 85 people in 2018.
One would have assumed “to do better” meant PG&E would be completely committed to safety and not simply increasing the body bag count and increasing the size of executive suite bonuses
What makes this all worse is not that PG&E collects slaps on the wrists with fines attached like some people collect pennies. It is the fact PG&E as a corporation is on federal felony probation for lying about record keeping in connection with safety issues related to the San Bruno pipeline explosion.
Typically when someone on probation is caught violating the law — especially if it is basically for the same offense — they get thrown into jail.
Instead PG&E gets to negotiate their way out of bankruptcy — which their business plan apparently calls for doing every decade — so Wall Street hedge funds can pocket obscene returns.
Lying is clearly the way PG&E does business.
The South San Joaquin Irrigation District learned that almost 20 years ago after PG&E promised the California Legislature if they voted to partially deregulate the state’s electrical market they’d work with irrigation districts to help them establish retail electric service.
SSJID took PG&E at their word; something 16 million Californians today understand can be a fatal mistake even if you are a paying customer. Most business plans don’t call for customers to become collateral damage by being burned to a crisp or blown up in order to maximize profits.
But this was back before PG&E tried to emulate their corporate hero — Enron.
Twice SSJID came up with plans to enter the retail business — one was an inter-tie at a former industrial firm in Tracy and another was near Delicato winery. Each time PG&E worked closely with SSJID to craft a plan to make an inter-tie that would allow the irrigation district to become a retail power provider and then at the last minute abruptly changed their corporate mind and pulled the rug out from under PG&E. After that — and in a bid to avoid the wrath of regulators — PG&E then offered to sell SSJID the rural South Manteca distribution system. Not only was it minuscule but it was completely worthless given much of the power poles at the time dated back to the 1920s.
That led to the 15-year epic battle SSJID is in now fighting via the eminent domain process as allowed under the state constitution for public entities to be able to force the sale of utility assets to serve the public good.
And while a firm that PG&E picked and regularly uses for its own projects confirmed to state and county agencies SSJID was quite capable of running a retail system and delivering retail power and do so with increases in reliability and safety as well as lower rates, PG&E opted to stonewall SSJID using the legal system as its primary weapon.
This is a classic move by PG&E. They battled the Sacramento Municipal Utility District for 23 years arguing they had neither had the knowledge or ability to operate a retail system and do so safely and at their low cost. We know what happened after SMUD finally prevailed in 1946. Their power is extremely reliable, their rates are 30 percent lower than PG&E and they haven’t killed off customers.
That brings us to the real bottom line.
How can the California Legislature any longer force 16 million people to be captive to a firm such as PG&E that the state has bestowed a monopoly that admits their actions killed at least 93 people, destroyed more than 20,000 homes and other buildings, is a convicted federal felon, is now in its second bankruptcy in less than 20 years, deliberately plunges millions into darkness as the end result of how they ignored basic maintenance for years, and lies so much that if Pinocchio were their corporate mascot the length of his nose would exceed that of Hyperion — a redwood at 379.9 feet that is the world’s tallest tree.
Instead of PG&E keep telling us after they are caught in lie after lie and after every time they cause the deaths of customers that they “promise to do better”, it’s time for the legislature to realize 16 million Californians can do much better than PG&E.