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PG&E characterized as "continuing menace"

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

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  • Jan 25, 2022

You’ve gotta have really tough skin to work at PG&E these days. On the eve of ending their 5-year probation for their role in a 2010 natural gas pipeline, PG&E has been characterized as a “continuing menace” in a report written by their probation judge,  U.S. District Judge William Alsup. The federal judge also pointed out that the power company had ignited at least 31 wildfires that had burned almost 1.5 million acres and killed 113 people during its probation. He went on to lambast the company for failing to remove unattended hazard trees and vegetation. 

While I don’t think Judge Alsup is wrong that PG&E’s infrastructure still presents wildfire risks, or that they need to do a better job clearing hazard trees, I find his tone a bit exaggerated. He, and so many others commenting on PG&E’s recent woes, often make it sound like the utility has single handedly caused all the destruction we’ve witnessed in California. Global warming, very bad forest management, and over-development are rarely brought up in these conversations. How well would other utilities have done given the circumstances? 

In any case, PG&E is still in a very tough spot. They are under enormous pressure to mitigate any future fires, however solutions are limited and very expensive. And really, when we’re talking about solutions to PG&E’s problems, we’re talking about burying the grid. The company has already announced plans to put 10,000 miles of their most problematic lines underground. But who knows how long that will take, and they’ll still have something like 71,000 miles of line above ground. Tough times for PG&E. 


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 25, 2022

Henry, having considerable experience interacting with both PG&E employees and its arch-enemies, I'd say your assessment hits the mark.

After a 2019 bankruptcy filing, the company completely replaced its board of directors, when allegations of corruption and fraud had led to two facing criminal charges. It's my impression that PG&E's new administration is genuinely concerned about improving service and safety, but faces financial hurdles from California attempt to relegate them to a "T&D"-only (transmission and distribution) entity.

Veteran employees point out the company faces howls of protest whenever it applies for rate increases to pay for clearing vegetation and replacing old infrastructure, and that no one anticipated how severe and rapid the impacts of climate change would be (climatologists anticipated them 35 years ago, but no one believed them). Critics portray the company as just another big bad utility that should be broken up into unregulated pieces - although history would suggest that will only make things worse.

Tough times for PG&E, indeed.

Henry Craver's picture
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