New Bill to make PG&E a public entity

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Sen. Scott Wiener passing other legislation "over the desk."

Sen. Scott Weiner intros new bill

A year after Pacific Gas and Electric filed for bankruptcy to shield itself from tens of billions of dollars in liabilities for the role of the company’s poorly-maintained equipment in recent fires across California, public officials are ratcheting up efforts to hold the utility accountable. 

Last week, the utility sheepishly announced plans to switch out members of its board of directors, after facing widespread criticism that the current board is more representative of New York financial elites than California ratepayers.

Critics of the company, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have pointed out that the board members, most of whom live on the East Coast, were spared from the impacts of PG&E’s widespread Public Safety Power Shutoffs last year as well as the wildfires caused by PG&E’s equipment before that. 

It’s certainly not a good look. And, in a new reformation plan filed in bankruptcy court on Friday, the utility promised to select at least half of its board members residing in California along with a number of other tweaks.

Whether the new plan will significantly change the company’s corporate culture—or win over Newsom—is still up in the air. 

State Sen. Scott Wiener, who represents San Francisco, introduced legislation, Senate Bill 917, intended to make the utility into a public entity. 

Under the proposal, the state would use eminent domain—the government’s right to seize privately-held assets under certain circumstances—to buy up a majority of the shares of the utility’s publicly-traded parent company, PG&E Corp.

“It’s time for a new start,” Wiener said at a press conference on Monday, Feb. 3.

Members of the IBEW 1245, the largest local union representing electrical workers in PG&E’s service area, reportedly heckled Wiener and other speakers at the press conference. Wiener has said that his proposal would transfer all current employees to the new public agency. PG&E also opposes the proposal.

Lastly, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the state agency tasked with overseeing the state’s power utilities, voted on Jan. 30 to require PG&E to create numerous regional public-interfacing boards to gather input on the utility’s management of future power shutoffs.

“[The working groups will ensure that] the needs of tribal and local governments during, before, and after a PSPS event are identified and addressed. PG&E shall also develop its 2020 de-energization protocols using feedback from the working groups,” the CPUC ruling states.

The decision came after widespread criticism of the utility for a lack of sufficient communication with local agencies, especially after last year’s wildfires, evacuations and power shutoffs.

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