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Pacific Gas and Electric on the Brink

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In a landmark letter organized by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, twenty-two California mayors and several other public officials this week asked that Pacific Gas & Electric become a community-owned entity.

PG&E was once America's largest privately owned utility. But it is now on federal probation stemming from felony crime convictions due to a 2010 gas explosion that incinerated much of San Bruno, killing eight people. The disaster was caused by the company's failure to properly maintain its pipelines.

It's also now in bankruptcy and facing massive lawsuits stemming from equipment failures that sparked nineteen wildfires in 2017 and 2018, killing more than 100 people.

The campaign by local governments to break up and take over the utility could become a turning point in the history of American energy. "A cooperative financial structure will save ratepayers many billions of dollars in financing costs over this next decade," the mayors write. "A customer-owned PG&E will better focus its scarce dollars on long-neglected maintenance, repairs, and capital upgrade, and mitigating some part of the substantial upward pressure on rates."

The push comes as PG&E's fate rests in the hands of a federal bankruptcy judge, a federal probation officer, and a state Public Utilities Commission that must ultimately approve any final reorganization plan submitted to the court.

Pacific Gas & Electric has become widely hated throughout the state, but especially in the north, where its faulty, under-maintained power lines have ignited massive fires. Hundreds of pristine square miles have been turned to smoldering ash, poisoning the region's air with toxic smoke. The utility has resorted to shutting off power to millions of people, hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2018 Camp Fire, sparked when seasonal winds toppled transmission lines. Eighty-five people died. Some 18,000 buildings were destroyed.

To avoid paying compensation for the lives it's ruined, PG&E management facing a $1.6 billion-dollar third-quarter loss and $2.5 billion in charges related to claims from fires in 2017 and 2018has fled to bankruptcy. The utility, whose CEO is paid a base salary of more than $2.5 million per year, says it is not for sale. "Our financing strategy to emerge from bankruptcy does not envision selling off company assets," PG&E CEO Bill Johnson wrote in an October 7 letter. "We believe we can fairly resolve and fund all claims and other items through conventional financial markets."

The public fury toward PG&E is intense. California Governor Gavin Newsom and U.S. Representative Ro Khanna joined the mayors in raising the possibility of a state takeover. San Francisco has set a price for buying company assets within its borders.

For comparison, consider the privately owned Long Island Lighting Company, which New York took over in 1998, converting it to the publicly-owned Long Island Power Authority. Its barely-used Shoreham atomic reactor was retired and overall rates went down some twenty percent.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear what will happen to PG&E's two decrepit, under-maintained, and uninsured nuclear power reactors at Diablo Canyon, outside San Luis Obispo.

Both Diablo reactors are more than thirty years old. They're brittle, cracked, and badly maintained. A former Nuclear Regulatory Commission site inspector has warned that they can't withstand a credible earthquake. There have been reports of waste mismanagement. Renewable energy proponents argue that Diablo's power is unneeded to meet the state's needs, and in fact interferes with grid space that would otherwise accommodate cheaper, safer, cleaner, and more reliable energy alternatives.

Once a credible force for safety, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has now virtually disappeared. Long known as an industry rubber stamp, the NRC is currently run by three Trump appointees who are essentially doing away with regular site inspections and all but the most minimal oversight. The situation is viewed by independent experts with extreme alarm.

A petition with more than 2,500 signatures asking that Diablo be independently inspected has gone to Newsom. Hollywood stalwarts Mimi Kennedy, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Jodie Evans, Frances Fisher, Lila Garrett, Dr. Helen Caldicott, Martin Sheen, Eric Roberts, Ed Asner, Ed Begley, Jr., and Graham Nash are among the signees.

The question of who will own PG&E and what happens to it as a unifiedor atomizedentity is bound to heat up as the company faces deepening fire from its rolling blackouts, rising prices, and increasingly contentious nuclear operations. The break-up and public takeover of this gigantic private corporation would mark a major milestone in the history of U.S. business and electric power generation.

With so many Californians still vulnerable to losing everything from utility-sparked wildfires, and with the decaying internal components of the Diablo reactors, let's hope the political and economic earthquakes surrounding this beleaguered utility are not matched by a physical one.


Harvey Wasserman's radio shows are broadcast at KPFK/Pacifica 90.7FM in Los Angeles. His podcast is on the Progressive Radio Network. His People's Spiral of US History: from Deganawidah to Solartopia is at www.solartopia.org.

 

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Harvey is a lifelong activist who speaks, writes and organizes widely on energy, the environment, election protection, social justice, grass-roots politics and natural healing, personal and planetary.He hosts "California Solartopia" at KPFK-Pacifica and "Green Power & Wellness" atprn.fm. (more...)
 

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5 people are discussing this page, with 12 comments


nelswight

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PG&E are hardly worth administering. Start over.

Submitted on Friday, Nov 8, 2019 at 11:51:52 PM

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Harvey Wasserman

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got that right. break them up, let the munis run the pieces, shut diablo NOW!!!

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 9, 2019 at 2:19:37 AM

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Alexander Kershaw

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Would that Grey Davis had the courage and political clout to take over PG&E when he had the chance. Thanks to Kenny Boy Lay whose ghost is still stalking CA we got Schwarzengroper instead who promptly abandoned the $9 billion suit against Enron and others who had gang raped the ratepayers of PG&E with its complicity. As a bonus Schwarzengroper also vetoed a single payer health care bill that was on his desk when he arrived. California's early experience with a sexual harassing leader who was too rich to be corrupted.

I knew deregulation would be economic and environmental disaster. I did not realize it would be a human and environmental tragedy. The PG&E executives, politicians, PUC directors and cohabiting ideologues and conspirators that pushed through the deregulation have blood and ashes on their hands. I hope their souls never rest in peace.

The break up and municipalization of PG&E is necessary but will never recover the damage done. I will cheer if this tragedy leads to every privately held utility is taken over and their nuclear reactors shut down like Rancho Seco and Long Island.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 9, 2019 at 1:26:45 AM

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shad williams

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Amen.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 9, 2019 at 5:36:30 AM

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shad williams

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I think the PGE malfeasance rises to the level of capital offenses for the both the major share holders, BOT and CEO and the Corporations are People Too, double dipper, PGE.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 9, 2019 at 7:54:28 AM

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Harvey Wasserman

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yes...we'll believe corporations are people with california executes pg&e

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 9, 2019 at 9:00:40 AM

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Harvey Wasserman

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this is the most critical enviro/green new deal / climate fight now in the us. diablo could take out all of california, yet its owners are corrupt and incompetent. those reactors

MUST SHUT NOW!!!

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 9, 2019 at 2:27:23 AM

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shad williams

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Can it be safely decom and stored?

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 9, 2019 at 5:38:33 AM

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NO, IT CANNOT. it should never have been built. but we have to do our very best to get it shut as quickly as possible, and to deal with the mess this irresponsible corporation has left us.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 9, 2019 at 6:20:56 AM

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Ina Kelso

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when we wake up and realize we are all crazy and that our interpretations of reality are projections from our brains, the mysteries of life dissappear. life stands explained. the anger , hate, greed, and blind ambition can be put in perspective. mark twain Maybe we can change things if we stop denying and ignoring things. Maybe there will be a force or knowledge that can help us change this and clean up this mess tu.be/eFkmRp_G2uo HOW FREE ARE WE? INL is a huge 900 square mile nuclear lab reservation, in east idaho. INL is 30 miles from pocatello. There have been 8 children diagnosed with new leukemia cases in pocatello since the wildefire. We know from Chernobyl there is more to come and much of it will be lied about or, hidden. There is an epidemic of children with reactive airway disease in east Idaho. My friend in wyoming, just east of INR was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 50 a month ago. INL has 100s of thousands of tons of nuclear waste from 65 years of nuclear processing and nuclear reactor experimentation. INL has 50 reactors . INL has had 5 nuclear reactor meltdowns . Probably more. SL1 meltdown m.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1 Recently there was one of the worst nuclear catastrophes in history , at idaho national laboratory reservation . We did not hear much about it, except some propaganda blurbs.. Completely downplayed by the media. A blip on the goddamned tv screen. The Idaho national wildwire Lab Reservation fire, in July 2019 was a combined nuclear and climate catastrophe wildfire, that put hundreds of tons of the worst radionuclides and radioactive waste smoke in the world, from the heart of the Idaho Nuclear Reservatiion lab, into the western american skys. A doctor at a Larger East Idaho Hospital ocology department has noted 20 new cases of cancer, since the INR fire in July. A pediatrician in Pocatello has noted 36 new cases of reactive airways disease in the pocatello area, since the fire. America is a fascist-plutocracy, nucleoape state, that has had and, has so much secret and open nuclear homicide going on, it dwarfs the rest of the world ten times over. The despicable murican MIC nuclear-oil complex, has destroyed the seas . It has engineered a human nuclear apocolypse, that is destroying our genome and will kill everything in the near future if gone unchecked. And people talk about how secretive the stupid russians are. I hope the russian people overthrow, the rotten nucleoape-autocrat named putin soon, with his nuclear cruise missile explosions and large ocean floating reactors in the arctic . I pray the stupid american people will get rid of the demented orange nuclear fascist, called fuko the clown, soon . Fuko and its gaggle of nuclear-hormesis ghouls, has completely deregulated and cut supervision of all 96 of the nasty decades-old, rotting nuke reactors, in shithole america. Fuko is forcing the moronic, murican zombie people to subsidize 30 nuclear reactors, ready to blow. Fuko has also escalated the world nuclear arms race to the point of critical mass. One can only hope the russian people overthrow, the rotten nucleoape-autocrat named putin soon, with his nuclear cruise missile explosions and large ocean floating reactors in the arctic . I pray the stupid american people will get rid of the demented orange nuclear fascist, called fuko the clown, soon . Fuko and its gaggle of nuclear-hormesis ghouls, has completely deregulated and cut supervision of all 96 of the nasty decades-old, rotting nuke reactors, in america. Fuko is forcing the moronic, murican zombie people to subsidize 30 nuclear reactors, ready to blow. Fuko has also escalated the world nuclear arms race to the point of critical mass.

Submitted on Saturday, Nov 9, 2019 at 1:43:02 PM

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This stuff makes me crazy.

Submitted on Sunday, Nov 17, 2019 at 8:39:07 PM

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Harvey Wasserman

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better it make you crazy than wipe out los angeles. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!!

Submitted on Monday, Nov 18, 2019 at 5:03:56 AM

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