I live in PG&E country but thankfully I don’t get my electricity from the utility. Mine comes from the one run by the city in which I live, so, so far, I have not suffered any intentional blackouts or power shutoffs as nearly a million folks have by the actions of PG&E.
(I do receive natural gas service from PG&E, and no problems so far.)
To be fair, PG&E is in a tough spot in that apparently due in part to climate change wildland fires are increasing in number and intensity. Last year a fire tornado blew though part of my town and the surroundings. That fire was caused by a spark from a vehicle with a tire blowout — the rim scraping against pavement.
But also last year, sparks from a PG&E line resulted in a fire that burned the town of Paradise, east of Chico, Ca., to the ground and displaced thousands of people and resulted in death and huge destruction. And the utility was reportedly responsible for as many as 20 major fires in the last several years.
Things, accidents, happen. But it has been reported that PG&E neglected maintenance for decades. I mean maybe some maintenance is a judgment call — cost vs benefit or at what intervals and so on. But one would think safety and customer service should come first. It seems, rather, PG&E thought of its stockholders and its own high-paid executives first. And that may be a problem with a public utility being run as a for-profit enterprise, as is PG&E. Capitalism is a great economic system. However, it always gives priority to profit. In most instances that is a benefit in that you tend to make a profit when you supply things people need or demand and in an efficient manner. But when it comes to public safety, sometimes the need for safety takes a back seat — can you say Boeing 737 Max? Stockholders want short-term gain and often do not look into the future.
While PG&E neglected some maintenance, it gave its executives lavish bonuses. But amid all this it declared bankruptcy — and for the second time in a decade. Is this any way to run a railroad? I mean a utility.
Oh, and PG&E also was responsible for a devastating fire in the San Francisco Bay area several years ago from the rupture of an old and worn out natural gas line.
In order to head off electrical line-sparked wildfires this year, so it says, PG&E is purposely shutting off power to thousands (almost a million) of customers when wind and other weather conditions threaten. Well perhaps that is a good idea. But one has to wonder if it is not some sort of revenge and even blackmail against the public as the result of lawsuits it has lost over the fires and its being forced into bankruptcy. When the public experiences the power the power company still has to make its life miserable, it (and the courts) might go easier on the utility.
There is a move to gather a bunch of municipalities to do a hostile takeover of PG&E and run it as a not-for-profit (but for service) public utility. Whether that is feasible is up for debate.
Personally I am not automatically against PG&E, but the reports I see seem to indicate some who are running it had their priorities wrong. But then if you are an executive and you have to decide how much maintenance is needed and at what intervals, you also have to keep in mind that your stockholders expect dividends and if you cannot make that happen, there goes your job and your big salary.
PG&E’s current CEO is reported to have a salary of $2.5 million. But meanwhile with all the lawsuits and liabilities from the wildfires, the utilities stock is in free fall. Seems like the shareholders are not getting their money’s worth. Neither is the public.
Again, to be fair, climate change may have fooled the experts.
But the evidence from PG&E itself seems to indicate that PG&E did willfully neglect maintenance.
It did not help that recently some PG&E big shots threw themselves a party in one of the very areas subject to a blackout. The guy who had that idea was fired, as he should have been.
Anyway, I’m glad my city provides my electricity. Good service too.
There is a call for putting most electrical transmission lines underground. How practical that would be and how costly I have no idea. I have a major transmission line right in back of my living quarters. While I have heard that it could cause health hazards (apart from fires), what is one to do? Power lines, cell signals, radiation of some kind is all around. We can’t close off every threat of modern life but we should put public safety over profits I would think.