This is a California story, but don’t look for any beach-babes or shark-encounters. To make a pun of it, it’s an electrifying tale of possible progress and legislative subversion.
But it’s a big story, because California is a big state.
Commerce-wise, it’s America’s behemoth with an economy totaling $3 trillion annually, the 5th largest in the world. But it has a problem. It’s major public utility, Pacific Gas and Electric (PGE) has a habit of blowing up and burning down major areas of the state. Let me count the ways:
The 2010 San Bruno natural gas explosion that destroyed a neighborhood and killed eight people, costing Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) $565 million in settlements and another $1.7 billion in fines.
The 2015-2016 Aliso Canyon natural gas blowout, which Sempra energy paid $1.8 billion for in settlements. Sempra energy owns SoCal Gas and San Diego Gas and Electric.
The $7.5 billion cost of wildfires in PG&E’s territory in 2017 alone. In 2021, PG&E was allowed to recover those costs from ratepayers. Since then, much more fire damage has occurred, and utilities are facing pressure to find a source of funds to pay the new damage costs.
Which is simply the tip of a very large iceberg. 2021 was a record fire-year and 2018 though 2021 are not even mentioned in the numbers above. PG&E is supposed to provide value but if it was a foreign country, California would be at war with it.
Yet, far from reigning in its illuminating (as in annually lighting up the skies) shortcomings, the California Public Utilities Commission is poised to kill off the cavalry coming to California’s rescue.
Money tried to sing and dance, but stumbled and limped off the floor.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s three major utilities spent at least $1.3 million to lobby state government in the first three months of 2019, during which one filed for bankruptcy and Gov. Gavin Newsom called for rethinking the state’s energy future.
It’s against the law for a public utility to use funds from consumer rates to lobby and then as for an increase in rates to cover the costs and yet PG&E and the parent companies for Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric did just that. All three utilities lobbied on more than 100 pending bills, not all related to wildfires.
California knows the solution is rooftop solar.
But it’s a problem, shooting the utility-robbers out of the saddle without an instant fix and rooftop solar will take a few years. So the posse is some distance behind the utility gang and the Public Utilities Commission’s solution is to let ‘em gallop off into the sunset, where they can catch their breath, feed the horses and make another raid. Meanwhile, the 2020 fire season is somewhere off in the smoky distance.
So, here’s the balance-sheet.
Over in the left-hand column we have rooftop solar: meets environmental goals, causes no fires, costs far less for consumers, creates millions of jobs, requires no replacement of the power grid and is sustainable.
On the right hand we have a extension of what we’ve got: is environmentally disastrous, causes fires and explosions, costs already high and increasing, creates thousands of jobs, requires a major reworking of the power grid and is unsustainable.
Which suitor would you choose to date (and perhaps marry) your daughter?
California has always led the nation in safety and environmental legislation. As large and prominent as California is within its sister-states, its decision in either moving forward with confidence or backward in technology is stunningly prescient.
Should the Public Utilities Commission succeed in its goal of turning back the environmental clock in California, Governor Gavin Newsom must veto the legislation.
It’s long past time for California to sing and dance.