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Run firm that is prime suspect in leveling neighborhoods & get $4 million pay boost
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

PG&E is going to save us all by “looking for a fresh perspective.”

That’s what the spin the burn ‘em and blow ‘em up corporate folks put on their announcement Friday to shake up its board of directors in a bid to be a more responsible monopoly guaranteed a 10.5 percent profit by the State of California no matter how many customers they might inadvertently kill, neighborhoods they destroy, or towns they may level by putting profits above safety.

Let’s be clear what those in the rogue corners of corporate America do when they don’t even put shareholders first. They maneuver ahead of the government to make sure their top executives’ “golden parachutes” — the boatload of compensation they get when they leave a company — are intact before they file for bankruptcy.

To hell with the shareholders, to hell with the line workers, to hell with the lives and property they destroyed in their drive to make money primarily for the top brass.

Remember a few years back when PG&E last went looking for a fresh perspective? They hired Geisha Williams as the CEO. She did give things a new perspective. Her bank account and that of six top executives soared apparently for the urban renewal project they helped create in the Napa Wine Country.

Apparently the top brass thought 2017 was a very good year. That’s when fires that are suspected to have started with PG&E equipment malfunctioning killed 49 people and destroyed 8,900 structures. Potential liability prompted PG&E to suspend shareholder dividends.

Williams’ compensation was doubled going from $4.16 million a year to $8.56 million. Now that PG&E is being investigated for possibly causing the even bigger Camp Fire in 2018 that killed 86 people and destroyed 18,809 structures Williams may be in for an even bigger compensation package given the tough job she has. Given Williams’ compensation for 2017 that PG&E brass apparently thought was a very good year in providing safe service to customers and protecting the interest of shareholders, the same warped PG&E logic would deem Williams deserves to have her pay more than doubled as PG&E seems to have more than doubled its liability with her at the helm.

This is not a new pattern. After PG&E’s less-than-honest dealings with the California Legislature that allowed it to snare three votes critical to deregulate the state energy market, they spent seven years reneging on a promise they made in writing and sealed by a legislative vote to help irrigation districts enter the retail distribution business. PG&E — along with Southern California Edison — agreed to suspend Competitive Transmission Charges (CTCs) to help irrigation districts carve out retail service areas. There was a seven-year time frame for irrigation district’s to act.

South San Joaquin Irrigation District was the only irrigation district not afraid to take PG&E up on its offer mainly because of how well situated the district is with its 110 plus years of investing in water and wholesale power projects for the expressed benefit of their customers and not shareholders or top brass. SSJID tried three times to access the CTC promise codified by law. Three times PG&E strung them along until the last minute and then pulled the rug out from under deals they had been embracing.

That is when SSJID went with the eminent domain process that is allowed for in the California constitution to allow the people to form their own electrical service companies.

At that point PG&E stopped being nice. PG&E bankrolled a $1 million phony front called “Stop the Power Grab” that set up an office in Manteca. They spent $1 million they collected from customers such as those in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon to fight SSJID to try and smear local leaders.

When that didn’t work they resorted to what might politely be called corporate espionage and hacked into SSJID computers to steal critical files and data related to SSJID’s bid to establish retail electrical service. Forced into a corner by a pending FBI investigation, PG&E quickly admitted no wrong doing but wrote a check in excess of $220,000 to cover SSJID’s damages incurred by their need to conduct extensive forensic work to determine exactly what documents PG&E secured in the old-fashioned way by hiring a consulting firm to do its dirty work.

You can thank SSJID, by the way, for unmasking deception in a proposed PG&E rate hike earlier this decade. The SSJID invested proceeds from the Tri-Dam Project to hire specialized experts who went through the PG&E rate increase proposal submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission — the state agency that is supposed to look after the best interest of ratepayers. They also looked at previous rate increases that were granted.

Thanks to their sleuthing the proposed $100 million plus rate hike was slashed by two thirds and customers of PG&E in SSJID territory and throughout Northern California saved significant money.

The SSJID effort also provided an early clue that not only could PG&E not be trusted but safety clearly took backseat to profits. That’s because they found verbiage in the proposed rate hike filing to justify part of the envisioned charges that were to replace thousands of failing power poles. They were the same power poles PG&E said it would replace when they were granted a previous rate increase.

Gee, perhaps PG&E executives found a way to turn the previous portion of a rate hike authorized expressly for safety purposes into more profit.

PG&E back at the dawn of the century told the CPUC of the 2.3 million power poles they owned at the time, they needed funds from ratepayers to replace 46,000 a year. Mind you this was an observation made by PG&E’s own experts based on power poles needing to be replaced every 50 years.

Rates approved by the CPUC at the time provided ample money to replace 45,000 power poles a year. A number of years later PG&E’s own experts testified before the CPUC that the for-profit utility replaced just 15,000 poles a year in 2002 and 2003. Then in 2004 they cut the number of aging poles they actually replaced to only 3,300 poles. Where did the money go? This is the same time PG&E was in Chapter 11 proceedings — the step prior to bankruptcy — after the brass drove the utility into the ground under deregulation.

The settlement in bankruptcy court ended up costing PG&E customers on average more than $1,300 over a decade paying for electricity at above market rates. PG&E customers, besides enjoying outlandishly high rates compared to other utilities got to enjoy rolling blackouts. The CEO and top brass who drove PG&E to the brink of bankruptcy got $12 million in bonuses for not abandoning their personal gravy train.

And none of this includes PG&E’s 2010 handiwork that leveled a San Bruno neighborhood killing eight people and injuring 58. Now, nine years later, prosecutors are considering criminal  charges against PG&E as it has come out the utility has once again reneged on legally binding promises they agreed to regarding safety practices stemming from a settlement over the San Bruno debacle.

How much more does PG&E have to do before the California Legislature steps in? Maybe if the next fire connected with faulty PG&E equipment compounded by its cavalier corporate attitude toward public safety destroys the neighborhoods of wealthy political donors and perhaps kills a few “moneyed” people, they might step in and bust up PG&E.