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Should The People Own PG&E?

Bankruptcy Adds Fuel to Push for Public Ownership

KCBS Radio Morning News
January 15, 2019 - 6:07 am

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS Radio) -- Activists have long argued for a public takeover of PG&E. With the company's notice of its intention to file for bankruptcy protection, they may be finding support in government circles.

State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) told KCBS Radio, "I personally believe that San Francisco should explore the possibility of purchasing PG&E's transmission and distribution assets."

In fact, that exploration is already underway.

"We have been directed by Mayor Breed to come back to her in three months" with an assessment of the options, said San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Chief Strategy Officer Juliet Ellis.

The impending PG&E bankruptcy, against a backdrop of potential multibillion dollar liabilities related to wildfires, represents an early crisis for Gavin Newsom's new gubernatorial administration. "This is a op priority for this administration," Newsom told reporters Monday evening.

Echoing comments made by San Francisco officials, Newsom sought to allay fears of blackouts or brownouts. "We are not in a position where we're worried about the lights turning out," said Newsom.

The idea of public ownership of the electrical distribution system has been debated in San Francisco for years.  Longtime San Francisco Bay Guardian executive editor Tim Redmond, who once said, "everyone hates PG&E," continues to push the idea at his 48Hills website.

Noting the recent plummet in PG&E's stock price, Redmond writes, "the state, or a collection of local governments, could buy PG&E for what amounts to chump change."

Municipally-owned utility systems already dot the Bay Area, with cities such as Santa Clara, Palo Alto and Alameda operating their own.

"There are 2,000 municipal utilities across the country, around 35 in California. They're all operating just fine," said Barry Moline, executive director of the California Municipal Utilities Association.

Moline told KCBS Radio a public takeover of PG&E would need to take into account the potential claims of wildfire victims.