By Tim Hunt
Plenty of blame to go around for fires and power shutoffsUploaded: Dec 3, 2019
Assemblyman James Gallagher wrote an opinion piece for CalMatters.org that offered a perspective that’s too often been missing from stories detailing the utility’s problems.
The Yuba City Republican correctly cites PG&E’s mismanagement as “the primary culprit in multiple wildfires,” but then goes on to recognize that the Legislature, the governor’s office and the Public Utilities Commission also share some blame.
Gallagher is rightly critical about the October power shutoffs that cost Northern Californian’s millions of dollars in lost food and other frozen products to say nothing about productivity without electricity and risk to people using electric-powered medical devices.
Given that PG&E executives are saying it will take a decade to upgrade the grid so there can be more surgical power shutoffs, the situation likely will be a boon for storage battery makes such as Tesla and the solar panel industry. Notably, the much smaller San Diego utility already upgraded its system so power shutoffs can be limited to areas of immediate concern.
Gallagher goes on to write, “the ratepayer was to be the ultimate master. But this concept has been distorted by government policy. The result is investor-owned utilities such as PG&E have many more masters to serve at the expense of safety and ratepayer interests.”
He points out that the PUC has allowed Wall Street and profits to outweigh the need to invest in the system. Throw in government regulations concerning tree trimming and mismanagement of the publicly owned forests
Gallagher then ties in the demand that utilities use electrical sources with renewable power instead of natural gas or other carbon-based fuels. The state requires utilities obtain 33 percent, 50 percent and now 100 percent of the electricity from renewable sources. That means lots of money spent on more expensive electricity.
What’s more is that hydro power was not considered renewable—it was only wind and solar thanks to the Democrat-dominated Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown.
Gallagher wrote that “PG&E spends roughly $2.4 billion annually to uphold the legislative mandate to buy renewable power. In 2017, the year before the Camp Fire ravaged parts of the district I serve, PG&E spent only $1.5 billion to update its century old infrastructure.”
“The result: California customers pay the highest rates in the nation for power that is no longer safe or reliable; and we are losing the climate battle.”
Gallagher and state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Red Bluff, have proposed pausing the renewable portfolio requirement so money can instead be shifted into upgrading infrastructure. That’s a smart proposal—but not likely to go far in the Legislature.