PG&E deferred maintenance to pay higher salaries and bigger dividends, now they want us to pick up the slack

12 Jun

My husband and I had to make an emergency trip out of town for the weekend. When we arrived home Monday morning our neighbor told us the power had been out since the previous morning, and had only been restored about an hour before we got home. 

From PG&E Currents: “The Public Safety Power Shutoff event in portions of the Sierra Foothills began Saturday, June 8 at approximately 9 p.m. and impacts about 16,000 customers in portions of Butte and Yuba Counties. Forecasts for the extreme weather conditions are expected to last through late morning on Sunday, June 9. PG&E will continue to monitor the weather conditions in Nevada, El Dorado and Placer counties, and may still de-energize lines there overnight if necessary.”

This news really made me mad.  For one thing, we signed up for text notices, and we’ve never received any, despite having our power turned off several times.  Furthermore, we keep a freezer full of meat and vegetables bought at discount, as well as hundreds of dollars worth of medication that requires refrigeration. We finally bought a generator for such emergencies, but hey, are we not allowed to go out of town without emptying and turning off our refrigerator? 

PG&E says, “Our most important responsibly is the safety of our customers and communities.”  But their comments don’t jibe with the record. Investigations found that the 2010 San Bruno explosion that killed 8 people in their homes was the result of deferred maintenance. PG&E was placed on probation as a result. A judge recently ruled that PG&E violated that probation by continuing to defer maintenance to infrastructure and removal of vegetation, as well as repair of known failures, one such failure resulting in the Camp Fire. From KCRA Ch 7 News in Redding:

“The deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history was caused by electrical transmission lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric located in the Pulga area, Cal Fire said Wednesday…Cal Fire investigators said Wednesday that electrical transmission lines owned and operated by PG&E were the source of the fire in Pulga…The cause of the second fire [on Concow Road] was determined to be vegetation into electrical distribution lines owned and operated by PG&E…”

Furthermore, the record shows a very clear pattern of ignoring known failures, such as the failing towers at Pulga Gap that caused the Camp Fire. 



PG&E delayed repairs for years on transmission line linked to lethal Camp Fire


Some excerpts:

PG&E had planned as far back as 2013 to replace an aging complex of transmission equipment suspected of sparking the lethal inferno that roared though Butte County in November 2018, but never completed the upgrades, according to documents filed with state regulators.

The power facilities that weren’t repaired for years stretch through Butte, Yuba and Sutter counties in Northern California and include 115 kilovolt transmission towers located on the Caribou-Palermo line, according to official filings with the state Public Utilities Commission.

“It is sickening to see this,” said Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, or TURN. “It’s not that PG&E didn’t know there was a problem. It’s not that they didn’t have the money to do this. They just didn’t have the will to do the work, or they were just negligent.”

“In 2010 and again in 2015, the California Independent System Operator transmission plan identified the need to improve and upgrade this system to address potential overloads and power outages that would affect customers in the service area,” according to a May 2017 PUC filing and the improvements that were again proposed for the same line.

“They had failed record keeping with San Bruno, and now with their electrical system, it appears to be more of the same for PG&E,” Sen. [Jerry] Hill, Santa Clara County, said. “One of the questions is, if PG&E was given money to carry out these repairs, why didn’t they spend it? Or did they divert the money to something else?”

The “something else” was dividends, which were recently suspended indefinitely by a judge.

“Judge Alsup told the company that it can’t pay shareholder dividends and must use the cash to improve its safety practices—specifically to cut down trees and manage other vegetation that could create fire hazards around its power lines.”

So, like the city of Chico and Chico Area Recreation District and the State of California and so many other public and quasi-public agencies, PG&E has deferred maintenance and repairs while paying dividends to shareholders, some the of best dividends on the market. Their stock price dropped dramatically  when judges started making harsh threats about fines and expensive wildfire mitigation plans, but those threats turned out to be pretty weak, and shares are back up. 

Coming home by way of Hwy 70, I did notice PG&E had cut huge swaths of trees from beneath the power lines stretching up out of the Feather River Canyon. Will wildfire mitigation really happen, or fade away like the repair orders from 2010? We need to pressure our legislators to make sure it happens, and it’s paid for with the dividends. 

Congressman Doug Lamalfa, Senator Jim Nielsen, and Assemblyman James Gallagher are our local representatives, you can find contact information at their websites. Try snail mail, I find e-mail doesn’t always get any response. 

 I think the shutoffs are a threat, PG&E wants the public to be afraid and stop pressuring for them to be accountable for their criminal negligence. They don’t want to pay, they want to raise our rates more and more to cover repairs that should have been done already. 

If you don’t think these power shutoffs are capricious, just remember “Bridgegate” –  people in high places don’t always have high morals.

And before that there was the Enron scandal:

I heard the tapes, and they actually laughed about creating “rolling blackouts” to coerce Californians into paying outrageous rates. Two things to pull out of that, from wikipedia:

  • “Although Enron’s compensation and performance management system was designed to retain and reward its most valuable employees, the system contributed to a dysfunctional corporate culture that became obsessed with short-term earnings to maximize bonuses. Employees constantly tried to start deals, often disregarding the quality of cash flow or profits, in order to get a better rating for their performance review.”
  • “The company was constantly emphasizing its stock price. Management was compensated extensively using stock options, similar to other U.S. companies. This policy of stock option awards caused management to create expectations of rapid growth in efforts to give the appearance of reported earnings to meet Wall Street’s expectations

And PG&E, as I recall, went into bankruptcy to get out of paying for their end of the scam. 





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