PG&E — contrary to the impression left by their apologists — is not being pushed into a game plan of possibly cutting power to customers located as much as 100 miles away from areas facing extreme wildfire conditions.
There is no government edict. There is no court order. And there is no regulatory oversight.
The de-energizing of major transmission lines in places like Manteca, Tracy, Stockton, and Lathrop to prevent PG&E equipment in public easements that the for-profit arguably has been criminally negligent in not maintaining from adding to its body count does one thing first and foremost — it protects PG&E’s interests at the expense of ratepayers that are interchangeable these days with the word “victims”.
Pay attention to what is going around you. Lathrop figures they will be out $100,000 in diesel fuel alone over a deliberate five-day power shutoff. Ripon will need to spend $84,000 to lease standby generators. Manteca will be going into massive police, fire, and public employee overtime to deal with the PG&E created disaster. Those actions are not just inclusive of those particular cities but what all cities within PG&E territory far away from severe fire prone zones need to do simply to keep basic needs such as wastewater systems working and water flowing even if it is at significantly reduced levels as well as struggling to protect public safety.
Between generators, the fuel to run them, and increased public safety costs the three cities of Ripon, Lathrop, and Manteca alone will likely be out more than $1 million during a five day PG&E imposed blackout.
There may not be a power outage designed to save PG&E’s profitability but as entities responsible for public safety and health cities have no choice but to prepare for the eventuality.
It is clear that not only has PG&E not maintained lines properly or replaced equipment that is beyond aging but that it has failed miserably to put in measures that reduce vulnerabilities by being able to properly secure segments of its transmission and distribution system. How else do you explain how communities 60 to 100 miles away from severe wildfire power areas have to go dark to reduce fire risk? This is what happens when you follow the unwritten executive suite motto at a 555 Beale St. in San Francisco of squeezing out profits at all costs. Shareholder interests and big executive bonuses always end up being the goal for PG&E regardless of the white knight gobbledygook that current CEO Bill Johnson is trying to feed the public to ward off legitimate arguments that the state needs to break up PG&E.
Let’s say the power is cut off for five days and no wildfire occurs that can be traced to decades of inept PG&E operations. No damage done, right?
Wrong. Between food spoilage and loss of wages for those who can’t work due to businesses being shuttered for a week Manteca residents alone have the potential to lose more than $43 million during a five-day disaster created by PG&E. That’s based on a per capital income of $25,624 divided by 52 weeks (a typical work week is five days) multiplied by 82,750 residents. Add to that 26,000 households losing an average $100 to food spoilage.
That, as they say, is just the tip of the iceberg. Shuttered businesses would lose income, perishable items would be lost and the likelihood of losses from burglaries and looting could sky rocket. Losses during a shutdown directly caused by PG&E incompetence and malfeasance could cost residents, businesses, and the collective community through increased local government costs well over $50 million just in Manteca during a five-day PG&E imposes blackouts.
If five day blackouts were imposed at least at one point on 6 million of the 16 million victims once known as PG&E ratepayers as the for-profit utility has made clear is possible it could easily exceed $4 billion.
But, hey, PG&E won’t have killed anyone or destroyed a single home in a wildfire their equipment could have caused. That might be true but what will happen in urban areas far away from wildfire zones that the ultimate outcome of decades of PG&E greed has left exposed?
How many people will die from heat-related illnesses or the inability to maintain their the lives via medical equipment that operates on electricity?
How much worse will fires in urban areas be during the extended PG&E blackout with severely reduced water pressure that not only compromises what can be pumped from hydrants but also renders expensive sprinkler systems required for new homes virtually worthless? Let’s not forget if there is a major wildfire somewhere in California at the same time which is highly likely, a number of firefighting personnel will have been called away.
This is what keep firefighting command awake at night. In the best case scenario with compromised water pressure and supplies, they will be able to take a successful defense stance if a fire is too far along by the time they arrive for a substantially reduced flow of water to successfully combat. That means attention would be made to protect surrounding structures as the best deployment of resources for the best possible outcome. The prospect exists for damages from fires in cities such as Manteca far away from wildfire zones to escalate significantly during the PG&E imposed disaster.
Let’s not forget that a wind whipped fire that started in dry grass along Interstate 5 destroyed 36 homes in Stockton a few years ago. It doesn’t take too much of an imagination to figure what would happen in such a case if water pressure was at best half of where it should be. You could be saving Arnold from burning but at the same time the price you pay is losing a tenth of Stockton.
There is also the real serious issue of delayed emergency response times that a protect the bacon of PG&E blackout will cause and whether people will die because of it. Hopefully no one dies at one of Manteca’s 14 at-grade rail crossings when crossing arms and flashers stop working after six hours without power. Trains will go slower but that also means shippers will incur losses all for the benefit of one for-profit company — PG&E.
And the beauty from PG&E’s perspective is they are off the hook financially and criminally going forward for wildfire liability by shutting off power and they have been absolved off any liability for shutting off the power elsewhere.
The question you have to ask is if PG&E is incapable of delivering power to as many as 6 million people whenever extreme wildfire conditions exist then why in the hell is the state allowing them to stay in business? PG&E’s business model resembles that of a corrupt backwards Third World corporation as opposed to a firm that is supposed to be powering what would be the world’s sixth largest economy as a stand-alone nation.
Keep in mind PG&E wants a 12.5 percent rate increase that will take $2 billion from its victims over the next two years to do work they neglected to do in many cases decades ago when they received previous rate hikes to perform. That includes a state guaranteed 10.5 percent return meaning PG&E will profit $210 million over the course of two years as a direct result of their culpability in killing 85 people, destroying 14,000 homes, and burning 5,000 other buildings just eight months ago in Butte County.
Recently announced Darth Vader — aka PG&E CEO Bill Johnson — says PG&E is changing its culture and a new day is dawning.
He has a funny way of showing it given the $2 billion rate increase includes a company proposal to have PG&E state guaranteed profits spiked to 16 percent. That means the lives of 85 ratepayers can be parlayed from $210 million in increased profits to $320 million in increased profit.
And you’re wondering why investors are so anxious to loan $30 billion to a company that’s bankrupt both financially and morally?
If Gov. Gavin Newsom lacks the courage to defend 16 million of his constituents against the evil empire of the corporate world, then perhaps he should get the same treatment as Gray Davis.
It might just give voters a chance to elect a governor during a recall that knows what we are up against. Gov. Erin Brokovich has a nice ring to it.
She’s the last known mortal to hold PG&E accountable for their complete disregard of human life in their relentless pursuit to cut corners to fatten profits.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.