As PG&E prepares to emerge from bankruptcy, California lawmakers are developing Plan B in case the utility continues causing more deadly devastation.
The state needs such leverage to ensure the disgraced utility starts putting safety before profits. It’s horrific that the utility’s wildfires and natural gas explosions have killed 111 people in the past decade. Now, a disaster that leaves thousands of residents homeless in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic could be similarly fatal.
Senate Bill 350 would allow the state to replace PG&E if it fails to meet safety standards. The California Public Utilities Commission would be empowered to revoke PG&E’s license to operate. A receiver would then work with the PUC to determine who would provide power to the 16 million customers PG&E serves in Northern and Central California.
The bill, authored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would make a public, nonprofit company called Golden State Energy the likely successor. But it’s not the only alternative. The legislation allows for the choice of another entity, such as the customer-owned co-op envisioned by San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and backed by dozens of other California mayors.
Golden State Energy would ultimately be overseen by a board of directors of six members elected by ratepayers and three members selected by the governor, Assembly and Senate. The nonprofit company could receive state financing to maintain and improve infrastructure and implement safety measures.
Hill’s legislation, supported by Gov. Gavin Newsom, passed the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee this week. It is scheduled for an Assembly floor vote on Monday.
Unlike his predecessor, Jerry Brown, Newsom has stood firm in negotiations with PG&E. He emphasized that if PG&E was going to use billions of dollars from a state fund to help pay future wildfire claims, the utility would have to agree to strict safety requirements and meet a June 30 deadline for emerging from bankruptcy.
PG&E appears to be on track to meet the deadline. Judge Dennis Montali, presiding over the utility’s bankruptcy, said Monday that he was willing to let the utility borrow $11 billion to help cover costs of wildfires caused by PG&E’s equipment failures.
The PG&E disasters that caused 111 deaths, including the catastrophic Camp Fire that killed 85 people, also destroyed more than 19,000 structures.
“With the disastrous track record of PG&E, there needs to be a Plan B if PG&E again operates unsafely,” said Hill. “No one knows what PG&E will bring in the future. We expect the best, but we have to prepare for the worst.”
PG&E is a convicted felon and has proved it can’t be trusted. SB 350 gives California an alternative if the utility fails to clean up its act.
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Author: Mercury News & East Bay Times Editorial Boards