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Time to try something new besides PG&E’s sky high rates & body bags

“You could defend PG&E if you want, but how is that going? They’re burning down entire towns. They are blacking out power to millions of people. PG&E is a failure and we need to try something new.” — State Senator Scott Wiener



Those words were spoken by State Senator Scott Wiener after three dozen people from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) disrupted his press conference in San Francisco Monday where he introduced legislation for the state to takeover PG&E.

The protestors stridently disagreed that public entities delivering gas and electricity would make rates lower or California safer. They also said claimed jobs would be lost and their pensions lost.

That will likely come as a surprise to current customers of public entities that now deliver power in California such as the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

SMUD has yet to kill off customers as opposed to PG&E’s body count so far of 93. They have not had to intentionally blackout customers due to concerns that they had aging and unsafe equipment that has not been maintained that could start deadly fires in high winds. Not only do they hire IBEW workers with generous pensions, but SMUD’s construction division isn’t perennially short staffed and running behind schedule as PG&E is. And as far as lower electric rates, SMUD customers pay an average of 30 percent less than PG&E.

Common sense and reality tells you IBEW workers will have jobs with the public entity or entities that would replace PG&E. The work linemen and such can’t be replaced with an app.

South San Joaquin Irrigation District that’s been working to enter the retail business long before PG&E started blowing up and burning ratepayers to death has been clear that they intend to hire IBEW personnel. They already do as a partner in the Tri-Dam system along with Oakdale Irrigation District.

The only thing they won’t do for IBEW workers is give them a 25 percent discount off their PG&E bills that they have as PG&E employees.

The bottom line is current PG&E workers will have jobs. It just won’t be jobs with PG&E.

Change can be unsettling. But if the 12,000 PG&E workers are driven by a need to have secure pensions, keeping PG&E intact as a for-profit entity might be the biggest risk they could take.

This is the company’s second bankruptcy in 10 years. The current one may put their pensions at risk if PG&E isn’t allowed to join the wildfire fund the state has established as a hedge against future liabilities from wildfires they have yet to cause. Then there is the issue of the Napa Valley fires being litigated that adds to PG&E’s exposure.

At a certain point, the odds are good pensions will be on the chopping block to keep PG&E as a for-profit concern viable.

Wiener’s bill would protect the pensions, bargaining agreement, wages and benefits of IBEW workers in a public takeover of the system.

PG&E, of course, is emphatic that it is “firmly convinced” a government takeover won’t work. That’s the same line they used in their 20-year battle trying to prevent SMUD from doing just that.

And just how bad is a public entity when it comes to delivering electricity? Ask the customers of Modesto Irrigation District, City of Roseville Electric, Santa Clara Valley, SMUD, Lathrop Irrigation District, and Trinity Public Utilities District to name a few.

They all deliver safe and reliable power at lower rates than PG&E.

Trinity PUD is an example of doing it right. They are in a wind whipped fire prone area and serve a small community with their biggest city being Weaverville at 3,600 people and havi8ng a service territory less than 14,000 people. PG&E has argued for years small is not better in fighting SSJID that has around 120,000 people in its service territory. Yet decades after breaking away from PG&E the Trinity PUD has rates substantially lower than PG&E and has never started a major wildfire. Better yet, the decision to takeover PG&E kept the community’s economy viable including a sawmill struggling with sky high PG&E rates.

Wiener’s bill — if successful — would entail borrowing money via bonds to purchase PG&E that has a market value of around $9 billion based on the combined value of all its shares. Local government agencies such as SSJID would have the chance to buy pieces of PG&E.

The legislation will serve as a litmus test for lawmakers that represent the 16 million people that are forced to be dependent on PG&E through the monopoly the state has granted PG&E. Lawmakers, by the way, that have no problem taking money from PG&E to fund their election campaigns.

They may try to hedge their bets by contending Wiener’s proposal is a knee-jerk reaction to climate change triggering wildfires and how PG&E is more of a victim than a culprit.

But they need to ask themselves if climate change:

*caused the 2010 San Bruno gas line explosion killing eight people and leveling a neighborhood.

*forced PG&E to lie to a federal judge about safety records connected with the pipeline and subsequently being placed on federal probation.

*somehow prevented PG&E from investing money over the years to replace aging equipment, clear branches from power lines, and not maintain the grid system.

*was why PG&E asked for money — and got it — as part of several rate increases to replace dilapidated power poles and then they took the money and used it for other purposes such as six-figure bonuses for those in the executive suite.

*force PG&E to falsify how often they were on time to verify the existence of non-existence of buried gas and power lines.

*is why their power rates are among the nation’s highest.

The damage PG&E does to local economies is mind-boggling. Just ask farmers, businesses, cities, and developers how they follow all the rules, secure a PG&E date to do critical work on projects to connect new businesses and such plus make the required deposit. Based on that, they go ahead and line up contracts to do other work connected with their project. Then — surprise, surprise — PG&E fails to honor its commitments.

There are numerous examples around Manteca that — combined — have cost the taxpayers big bucks in construction delays. The worst example that involves public safety is the six months and counting that the crosswalk signals at Woodward Avenue and Wellington Avenue have not been activated while waiting for PG&E to schedule its understaffed construction crews.

What Weiner is proposing, in essence, is to take what works at PG&E — the 12,000 IBEW men and women — and wed them with transparent local agencies worried about answering to the communities they serve and not to the personal bank accounts of PG&E brass and the demands of profit-motivated Wall Street hedge funds.