California needs to get serious about planning a PG&E acquisition.
It is becoming clear every day that Pacific Gas & Electric Utility may not meet the safety standards established by the California Public Utilities Commission in order for the company to emerge from bankruptcy.
The PUC last year laid down a six-step enforcement process that would lead to a state takeover of PG&E in the event of a serious operational or security lapse.
In April the utility triggered Phase 1 by failing to prioritize clearing vegetation on its highest-risk power lines in 2020.
Phase 2 will be applied if a gas or electrical incident destroys 1,000 or more housing or commercial structures as a result of PG&E’s failure to comply with the Utility Commission’s safety regulations.
PG&E said on July 19 that its equipment may have started the Dixie Fire, which is now more than twice the size of San Jose and has burned 67 structures. According to Cal Fire, the fire threatens another 12,000 structures. PG&E revealed Tuesday that it may also be responsible for the smaller Fly Fire that began on July 22 and eventually merged into the Dixie Fire.
If Phase 2 is implemented, the PG&E will be required to create a corrective action plan. If that fails to stop the destruction, Phase 3 calls for the appointment of an independent, third-party monitor to oversee PG&E’s security programs. Subsequent failures would eventually lead to a takeover of the state by a non-profit, public-profit corporation called Golden State Energy.
Given PG&E’s regrettable history, Californians should ask the PUC why it did not begin with Step 3 of the process. Let’s not forget that the utility is a convicted felon responsible for the deaths of 111 people and the destruction of thousands of homes over the past decade.
Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridget said Thursday that her office will pursue criminal charges against PG&E over the 2020 Zog Fire, which killed four people and destroyed more than 200 buildings near Redding. The Zog Fire started when a pine tree hit a PG&E power line.
The utility lost any remaining trust of Ratepayers when it admitted before a federal judge in 2019 that it did not meet its wildfire protection plan risk-reduction goals for that year, but did not receive bonuses for 400 senior employees. went ahead with its request for approval of $187.8 million in the U.S. , an average of $469,500 per person. It came in the wake of the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed 85 people, destroyed 12,637 homes and 4,201 businesses, and left most of Paradise’s 26,000 residents homeless. PG&E later canceled the bonus following protests.
Given the state’s performance during the pandemic, Californians are right to be concerned about the prospect of a state takeover of a utility that serves 16 million customers in 48 counties in northern and central California. But, as PG&E continues to demonstrate that it cannot safely provide credible power, Legislator and Governor Gavin Newsom should begin planning to take control.