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Will coronavirus pandemic take out the big, bad wolf known as PG&E?
big bad wolf

The pandemic could easily be what ends PG&E’s reign as a felonious cooperation that’s racked up a self-admitted 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter as its CEO lined his pockets with $13.8 million last year while millions of customers were left in the dark and suffered millions of dollars of losses ranging from spoiled food to lost business income and wages.

The reason is simple. A complex $13.5 billion settlement that is pennies on the dollar to begin with for more than 8,000 wildfire victims is based on PG&E stock being valued at between $14 and $15 a share. PG&E stock as of the market’s close on Wednesday had been hammered down to $8.42 per share due to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Wildfire victims have yet to vote on the plan. Their approval is needed by June 30 for PG&E to get out of bankruptcy court to keep a Wall Street hedge fund bailout plan in place. It is also needed to avoid triggering a poison pill of sorts that opens the door for the state to take over the for-profit utility that told the world two months ago they were on track to make a record $2.4 billion in annual profit by 2024 once they got out of bankruptcy.

Wildfire victims have much to lose if they agree to the deal that requires them to accept a large part of their settlement in PG&E stock. It is quite possible PG&E stock, given current economic conditions and trends, may be just a tad more valuable than shares in Washington Mutual Bank — the high flying financial institution that told PG&E-sized whoppers on its way to becoming the biggest casualty of the liar loan fiasco.

The entire utility sector despite being a “necessity” for people was bludgeoned on Wall Street last week losing 17 percent of their value.

The Electric Power Research organization has reported in the initial days of forced closings due to the pandemic the demand for electricity was off 21 percent in some areas.

The cost to produce storage batteries for electricity appropriately-sized for residential use continues to drop. The number of residential solar installations in PG&E territory that could one day be connected to such storage batteries continues to climb.

Even with the slimmer tax breaks for solar systems installations continue to grow thanks to PG&E’s decision for at least the next 10 years to cut off power to save itself from more liability from aging infrastructure that has the ability to trigger wildfires.

Every economist on the face of the earth expects a major recession — or worse — in the coming months. At the same time PG&E’s rosy bankruptcy plan anticipates an increase in electrical loads. Given solar systems are already cutting into power demand, an economic slowdown may mean PG&E power loads could actual decrease.

It doesn’t take a Philadelphia lawyer — just any good attorney with average deduction skills that is representing wildfire victims — to add that all up.

It is clear the best outcome for PG&E’s wildfire victims is for the state to buy the company and to assure the $14 to $15 stock price.

The Wall Street wolves PG&E has lined up to partner with them and who are salivating over being able to prey on 16 million PG&E customers that will be hit with 8 percent rate hikes annually for the next four years so PG&E CEO Bill Johnson can keep making $13.8 million a year have no stomach for pitching more money into the deal.

That is why PG&E’s buddies at the California Public Utilities Commission are looking at a plan to pare back the meager penalty they slapped on PG&E for its actions that squeezed out record profits while at the same time setting in motion events that led to the murderous assault on the Town of Paradise and left 14,000 families homeless and led to the deaths of 85 people.

The proposal the CPUC unveiled Monday calls for rolling back $200 million of the fine in order not to undo the $9 billion loan package cobbled together by Wall Street hedge funds eager to sink their fangs into 16 million PG&E customers. They will not come up with what is essentially another 3 percent of what they have already committed to keep the deal in place.

This means one of only two things. They are trying to milk the situation for all it is worth — or the more likely scenario — the added fine that popped up after they negotiated a bailout with PG&E gives them a way to back out of “buying” into a company that clearly is looking more and more everyday as if it will ultimately choke to death on its own corporate culture.

After telling the world shareholders will take the hit for their wrongdoing, PG&E has been working overtime to make sure that doesn’t happen.

This is all being done while the self-described savor of PG&E — CEO Bill Johnson — is using his church boy persona coupled with his inferred tough love corporate demeanor to try and convince Californians that the company the Butte County district attorney determined is so loaded with people that bought into the PG&E culture of profits over safety that it was impossible to charge any one individual with manslaughter for the deaths of 84 people.

That choir boy, by the way, made $18.5 million running PG&E last year. His predecessor, Geisha Williams, only made $9.3 million a year.

So you understand this correctly. The only clear improvement you can quantify in how the “new PG&E” has changed under Johnson’s watch is the doubling of the compensation of the CEO.

Not a bad trick for a bankrupt company.

It is why everyone that is a potential PG&E victim needs to understand Johnson could dress up as grandma and tell you all the soothing things you want to hear but at the end of the day he’s still the big bad wolf.

The only question is does Gov. Gavin Newsom have the stomach to do what any self-respecting lumberjack carrying an ax would do if they came access the modern-day big bad wolf trying to run down his prey in the form of 16 million Californians while licking his chops?