PG&E Ownership Needs to Shift From Wall Street to Californians

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

It is time for ownership of Pacific Gas and Electric Company, known as PG&E, to shift from a Wall Street company to one owned by the Californians whose power it supplies.

PG&E is the largest utility company in the country, providing electricity and natural gas service to around 16 million people in California, stretching from Eureka in Northern California, to Bakersfield in the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. While many say big banks are too big to fail, and they probably are, PG&E is just too big to not fail. The time is now to change it into a company that best provides electricity to big swaths of California. 

“The size and scope of this utility leads to the obvious question: Is it too big and can it be broken up and managed in a different way?” Governor Gavin Newsom said.

A utility company in deep trouble

PG&E gave 264,000 customers in 22 counties 48-hour advance notifications on November 18 that their power would be shut off. The stated reason is that “worsening dry conditions and expected high wind gusts pose an increased risk for damage and sparks on the electric system that have the potential to ignite fires in areas with dry vegetation.” In other words, the utility company does not want to see a repeat of the Camp Fire in Paradise. California’s deadliest wildfire, the Camp Fire burned 19,000 buildings and left 86 people dead.

A transmission line owned and operated by PG&E was identified as the cause of the Camp Fire by an investigation by California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The average age of PG&E’s transmission towers is 68 years old, according to documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal. In other words, PG&E’s infrastructure is too old and needs to be upgraded. 

The company filed for bankruptcy on January 29. The company reached an $11 billion lawsuit settlement in September for wildfire claims. It is paying millions for the 2010 gas pipeline explosion in a San Bruno neighborhood that killed eight people and destroyed an entire neighborhood.

Many Californians want a public takeover of PG&E

People across California are calling for a public takeover of PG&E. A group called Californians for a Public Utility stated in a letter to Governor Newsom that a “true publicly owned utility can and should be awarded equivalent to the PG&E franchise service territory.” 

Counties, cities, and towns across California are considering a public takeover of PG&E:

  •  Sonoma Clean Power, a public agency which supplies energy to Sonoma and Mendocino counties, is starting to look at the impacts of taking over the PG&E’s electrical grid. The agency’s board of directors unanimously voted to investigate a public takeover of the electrical grid.  
  •  Valley Clean Energy in Yolo County announced last month it will make a $300 million bid to buy PG&E’s electricity infrastructure. The public agency’s board of directors stated that it could provide a more “safe electrical system.” 
  •  The mayor of Rocklin, a town in the Sacramento area, called for a study of whether the town could acquire PG&E’s infrastructure. Lincoln, another town in the Sacramento area, is looking into using Roseville Electric Utility or Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which are locally controlled utilities.  
  •  The South San Joaquin Irrigation District submitted a $116 million offer in September to buy PG&E’s infrastructure in the water agency’s area.  
  •  San Francisco made a $2.5 billion bid in September to buy PG&E’s electrical infrastructure. The utility company rejected the offer. San Jose also made an offer to take over PG&E’s electrical infrastructure.  
  •  A coalition of public officials, including 22 mayors, sent a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and Governor Newsom arguing that they want to see PG&E become a customer-owned cooperative.  

What you can do

If you are a California resident in PG&E’s service area, there is something you can do to make your voice heard. Sign the Color of Change petition which demands that PG&E belong to Californians and not Wall Street. 


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