Calls Grow For Public Ownership of PG&E

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Photo credit PG&E

As Pacific Gas and Electric restored power to about 95 percent of customers who were left in the dark during the utility's deliberate outage, the call for a major shakeup at the utility is reaching a crescendo, especially from lawmakers. 

One of those voices is coming from Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of Santa Clara County who told CNBC that PG&E has not met its responsibilities as a utility company and the time for lawmakers to act is now.

“The facts are very clear. They have failed to make investments in the upgrading of their infrastructure. The regulators have been way too loose [with overseeing PG&E’s actions]; there’s not enough accountability," said Khanna on Tuesday. "It’s time for the state to take ownership of PG&E and make sure what they are doing what they need to do to keep the power on and to keep people safe."

More than 2 million people in Northern and Central California lost power amid a series of blackouts PG&E imposed to reduce the risk of strong winds damaging equipment and sparking a fire in dry terrain.

PG&E's equipment has been blamed by investigators for starting several fires in recent year. Indeed, the company again has told regulators about malfunctions that happened at times and locations near the starting points of several recent fires in the Bay Area. 

“In the 21st century, when you have a state that has Apple, Google and Tesla in it, there is no excuse that we can’t get power to our people on a regular basis," Khanna said. 

The Kincade Fire, which CalFire said Thursday has ripped through 76,825 acres in Sonoma County, erupted just as the second PSPS of the month began October 23. 

A day later, the California Public Utilities Commission revealed that PG&E reported to them that a jumper cable on one of their transmission towers on Burned Mountain malfunctioned just before the Kincade Fire erupted.

PG&E CEO Bill Johnson told the CPUC in an emergency meeting during the first PSPS round on October 18 that, while the utility is working to make these outages unnecessary, customers should expect rolling blackouts for the next decade.

That didn’t sit well with state regulators and lawmakers. Governor Gavin Newsom also chimed in that action needs to be taken against PG&E regarding these sustained power outages.

“We’ll hold PG&E, the corporation, accountable. We’ll make sure that there are brighter days in the future," said Newsom. "We, I assure you, are not allowing any of this to be the new normal. This will not take 10 years to fix; I can promise you that."