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In-Depth Interview: A Discussion of Public Ownership of Pacific Gas & Electric

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California’s “rogue” utility, PG&E is in bankruptcy, again, and we discuss proposals for public ownership.This podcast is the audio from a recent Marin TV program, In Conversation with Peter B. Collins. The guests are Tim Redmond, founder and editor of the local news site and Eric Thrasher, an activist and originator of this petition to convert PG&E to public ownership.

You can watch the video program here.  At the start, we recap the sordid history of the utility, going back a century to the Raker Act.  We review the 1980’s debacle at Diablo Canyon, where PG&E initially built the nuke plant’s cooling systems backwards, and had to start over with Bechtel Corp.  The cost overruns led utility management to spend years trying to get ratepayers, not shareholders, to pay for the blunders.

In the late 1990’s, PG&E wrote its own deregulation law, followed by market manipulation by Enron and El Paso Gas that led to bankruptcy and billions of dollars in state bailouts.

The 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that killed 8 people and led to felony convictions for PG&E.  The wildfires of 2017 and 2018, mostly caused by the utility, have produced resignations from top executives and a bankruptcy filing that many feel is strategic and premature.

In this program, we discuss the opportunity for the state to buy control of PG&E to re-set the mission from profits to safety.  We talk about breaking it into smaller unites, and expanding public power agencies.