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PG&E board packing makes it clear: ‘P’ in PG&E is for profits, not people
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

PG&E leveled a San Bruno neighborhood in 2010 that killed eight people.

They were responsible for starting 17 Northern California wildfires in 2017.

The for-profit utility, by its own admission, is responsible for the start of the Camp Fire in Butte County that wiped out Paradise and killed 85 people.

PG&E says it’s facing $30 billion in liabilities from those fires.

Its electrical rates are already 54 percent higher than the national average.

So you would think the new CEO and board they have assembled to restore public confidence and take steps to refrain from blowing up or burning out paying customers might lean a little toward folks with an interest in safety first.

Instead they kowtowed to three East Coast investment firms that hold just over 10 percent of PG&E stock to load the for-profit board with 10 Wall Street insiders and the highest paid employee on the federal payroll to serve as chief executive officer – Bill Johnson who is the CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Johnson is paid $8.1 million by the TVA. PG&E is being hush hush in regarding how much Johnson will make taking over the reins as CEO. Any bets that it is going to be way north of $8.1 million with a severance package equivalent to the median price of 1,000 of the 14,000 homes PG&E helped destroy in Butte County just in time for the holidays?

It is clear that Wall Street will be calling the shots and not the California Public Utilities Commission. In fairness to Wall Street, they might be more attuned to consumers than the CPUC has been given they get killing off too many customers can be a drag on the bottom line.

Gov. Gavin Newsom claimed he was disappointed, saying the new board wasn’t put together with the interests of consumers in mind. You think?

Instead of Newsom being the latest in a long line of governors who have little interest in actually making sure the CPUC was a consumer watchdog with teeth instead of a PG&E lapdog loaded with ex-utility firm executives, he might want to do one of his bold initiatives he’s come to be known for after 100 days in office.

He can start by dismantling PG&E like he did the execution chamber at San Quentin. PG&E’s drive for profits over safety has “executed” at least 94 people since 2008 if you count San Bruno, Paradise, and the blowing up of a Rancho Cordova home 11 years ago on Christmas Eve. 

It won’t be too hard to find constitutional justification for such a move given there are clear-cut requirements for the financial stability of those firms that are allowed to enjoy running a government protected monopoly utility with state guaranteed profits. A firm in the throes of bankruptcy that has, by its own admission, $30 billion in liabilities stemming from its own negligence (meaning its liabilities grossly exceeds its book value) would have a tough time demonstrating it can continue to operate.

In a filing with the CPUC in December, PG&E says it essentially needs to collect $126 a year on average from each of its customers in order to try and not to blow them up or burn them out. PG&E has a history of promising to do safety-related work in previous rate increases such as replacing 45,000 deteriorating power poles then asking in a future rate hike for funds to replace 33,000 of the same poles after diverting the money to other “higher priority” uses. Could the “higher priority” use have been coming up with the cash to compensate a long line of CEOs with fat paychecks and severance packages? These are the CEOs who drove PG&E to the edge of bankruptcy after the deregulation debacle that they put in motion by using a bait-and-switch tactic of promising to help irrigation districts such as South San Joaquin Irrigation District enter the retail power business to secure the last two votes needed for the California Legislature to let them dance with Enron. If you think PG&E’s word is any good, just ask SSJID. You can email them if you’d like as SSJID’s computers are pretty secure nowadays after PG&E wrote them a check in excess of $200,000 after a “consultant” working for PG&E hacked the SSJID computers.

And if you think just because you’ve installed solar you can escape your share of the $126 a year bill that will surely double or even triple to make the PG&E system “safer,” here’s some bad news. Such costs aren’t collapsed into the price of electricity PG&E sells. They are approved by the CPUC as separate charges on your PG&E bill.

If you still don’t think you have a dog in this fight, consider all of the commentary penned by Wall Street types before PG&E filed bankruptcy arguing that the utility needs to shed contracts that are dragging it down financially. It is within the realm of possibilities that the Wall Street insiders handpicked by investment firms that rely on PG&E not for power to light their homes and keep the food in their refrigerators cold but to assure them of obscene profits from PG&E stock will pitch to the bankruptcy court that PG&E can ill-afford to be forced to buy excess solar power from small producers. The bankruptcy court’s objective is to come up with a way to make PG&E whole and then look after the interests of its creditors. Customers or consumers aren’t anywhere in that equation.

If the state breaks up PG&E’s electrical system and distributes the pieces to agencies set up in the fashion of Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Santa Clara Power, Modesto Irrigation District and others, the $126 extra you will be paying a year for safety improvements won’t include the regulatory 10.5 percent PG&E gets to keep for profits.

That’s right. PG&E will profit from charging its customers to do safety work that in all likelihood wasn’t done with previous rate increases as promised so they can squeeze even more profits.

Let’s hope Newsom is up for the game of being governor of Californians instead of standing  by and allowing PG&E to be run by Wall Street insiders clearly focused on profits first just like their predecessors.

And the only way he can do that is for the state to take control of PG&E and split the electrical service into regional agencies.

Here’s looking to the day Newsom stands in front of the cameras outside of 77 Beale St. in San Francisco and announces that he’s moving to free 16 million Californians from the reckless economic tyranny of PG&E.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.