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End PG&E’S Monopoly

Dixie. Kincade. Paradise. Camp. More than 1.5 million acres burned, and towns decimated. One hundred thirteen Californians killed.

As activists have put it, if Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) were an individual and not a corporation, they would be behind bars for the preventable deaths and devastation they have caused. PG&E’s negligence has continued to contribute to our worsening climate crisis and cause devastating wildfires. If we think San Francisco need not to worry about PG&E’s negligence, then we would be wrong.

Because, while San Francisco’s community choice aggregation (CCA) program, CleanPowerSF, has helped our City move away from relying on the monopoly PG&E holds, we still rely on the company’s aging distribution and transmission lines to deliver our power.

In 2018, San Francisco offered to purchase PG&E’s equipment, but the company declined. According to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, nearly 70 city projects were delayed due to PG&E creating obstacles to connect affordable housing, parks and emergency services to power. The project delays cost the City more than $10 million annually.

In addition to creating questionable delays, PG&E is responsible for many of the recent state wildfires, which have a lasting impact on our air quality and health. No one will forget the day the sky turned orange in the City from a wildfire many miles away. Our state leadership can and must do better to prevent future wildfires.

Despite the fires PG&E sparked in 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety quietly approved PG&E’s safety certificate this past January. Activists who were scheduled to meet with the governor the following day regarding the certificate were caught completely unaware.

The lack of transparency in approving these certificates is unacceptable. That’s why I introduced a resolution in April for Climate Month, urging Gov. Newsom and the new state department to not issue PG&E their safety certificate for next year. If counties around San Francisco are not safe, none of us are safe.

Last month, PG&E had to separately submit its wildfire mitigation plan. An approved plan is required for the company to receive a safety certificate and to continue operating. However, the plan was rejected by the CPUC and required PG&E to spend the next several weeks adjusting their proposed plan. While advocates wait and hope for a serious plan that will mean PG&E invests in fixing their infrastructure, my office is organizing a hearing on the safety certificate, to hear from environmental justice advocates on why we need to break free from PG&E.

The safety certificate allows PG&E to utilize ratepayer dollars to pay for damages – damages caused from the same wildfires they started. Instead of using their profits to invest in upgrading their equipment to prevent fires, they are allowed to take even more of our money to pay for their mistakes. In 2020, former State Sen. Jerry Hill authored a state bill that created Golden State Energy, which was created as a backstop in the event PG&E fails to emerge from bankruptcy or fails to operate its gas and electricity services in a safe and reliable manner. Golden State Energy is a non-profit, meaning the company would not have an interest in maximizing profit for its shareholders.

We need to move to an energy democracy where ratepayers are not beholden to a private company that has its shareholders’ needs in mind, not the general public. This is why I call on Gov. Newsom to hold PG&E accountable for its commitment to maintain its equipment, harden its wires to avoid sparking fires, and maintain adequate clearance of vegetation, especially as the state is facing an early fire season this year. Let’s end the PG&E monopoly and build a climate-resilient, renewable energy future.

This article was published in the Richmond Review in July 2022

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