“The PUC immediately should convene a committee of independent safety experts and give them the authority to oversee outages and take actions to protect the public from its utility.”
PG&E, a felon company, has killed 111 people and is now putting its customers in an untenable position
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Another major fire. More massive outages. Gov. Newsom, this is now your crisis. Whether you like it or not, you own it.
And how you deal with it will determine whether you walk away with a legacy of having reshaped the state’s electricity delivery system — or face the fate of Gray Davis, the governor ignominiously recalled in 2003 after the state’s energy crisis.
What’s clear is that the status quo is unacceptable. Because of its own incompetence, PG&E, a felon company, has killed 111 people in the past decade and now is putting its customers in an untenable position.
We must risk deadly wildfires because of the utility’s complete failure to adequately maintain and upgrade its equipment. Or we must endure massive power shutdowns that bring communities to standstills, put those dependent on electric-powered, life-sustaining equipment in danger, and undermine businesses that struggle to survive.
As we’re now seeing, even the massive outages do not guarantee protection against PG&E’s operation of dangerous lines. The utility on Thursday disclosed that it had found broken equipment on one of its transmission towers near the origin of the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County. Power on the lines at that tower had not been turned off Wednesday night even though it was in the outage area.
The governor must do more than just visit wildfire sites, express indignation and write angry letters to the utility. It’s now up to Newsom and his newly appointed president of the California Public Utilities Commission, Marybel Batjer, to start cracking down on PG&E.
The time for accommodating the company is over.
The 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, caused by PG&E equipment, was the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history, killing 85 people and destroying the town of Paradise. More than 14,000 homes and businesses burned, displacing more than 20,000 residents.
The year before, the utility’s equipment was found to have played a role in 12 fires in six Northern California counties. That included the Atlas Fire in Napa County, which led to six fatalities; the Redwood Fire in Mendocino County, which caused nine deaths; and a merged set of fires in Sonoma and Napa counties that led to three fatalities.
And, before that, PG&E’s 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion killed eight and destroyed 38 homes. Investigators found that the utility’s top management had diverted ratepayer funds intended for maintenance to pay for executive bonuses and shareholder dividends.
The PUC immediately should convene a committee of independent safety experts and give them the authority to oversee outages and take actions to protect the public from its utility.
Batjer should embed PUC experts at the headquarters of PG&E so they can directly monitor the company’s operations and hear from employees who would otherwise be reluctant to speak up.
PG&E executives and board members should be called before the commission on a weekly basis to explain the company’s actions and provide a clear plan for bringing its operations into the 21st century. Moreover, all rate increases should be tied to performance and safety.
That should just be the start.
We have advocated for a breakup or public takeover of the company. Newsom has shown no interest in that.
OK, governor, this is now your crisis. Fix it.