Opinion by Allan McNew
PG&E and other California utilities have shut the power off in high wind conditions in order to deflect liability in the event of structure or conductor failure in fire hazardous areas, which has provoked public outcry while Governor Newsom points fingers.
Governor Newsom should take a look in the mirror concerning his recent statements about mismanagement at PG&E, or at the very least spend a day or two waiting in line at any DMV office. Imagine the catastrophe that would ensue if he were to engineer a state takeover of California investor owned utilities.
Newsom is either clueless or posturing… or maybe he is cluelessly posturing.
I have worked on government owned power utilities from municipalities to federal agencies, those I’ve had experience with are no shining examples of well oiled machines. One example is DWP, which, the last I saw, is held together with band aids and is overdue for a melt down with their old lead cable underground system.
Snark aside, this is no defense of PG&E. I’ve worked on that property several times and long ago lost any desire to ever do so again.
However, we have to look at runaway environmentalism. As an example, some years ago I was on a job in a mountain area of SCE property where we were to change out a deteriorated pole on a back property line facing the forest. The foreman was on location determining how to accomplish the job when a kindly looking older woman approached him and inquired as to what he was doing. He explained, and responding to further query described how the job was going to be accomplished, which was in the very least environmentally harmful way possible. The woman thanked him and tottered off. By that afternoon several environmental activist organizations were involved as well as California state agencies and the issue was even made known to some members of Congress. The job was shut down.
Driving up the mountain I observed the deteriorated condition of a number of structures in the weeds and trees off the road. Apparently environmentalists don’t have a clue about D7 bulldozers cutting firebreaks while the mountain is burning versus proactively maintaining power lines. And, the harder it is to maintain facilities the more it costs the rate payers.
In the meantime leather lung governor Newsom is creating his very own hot air windstorm about forcing PG&E to become modernized while ranting the standard progressive-socialist stuff about corporate greed. What Newsom fails to understand is that investor owned power utilities are heavily regulated, capital intensive (total labor and management costs are practically negligible compared to plant and other costs), cost plus operations. In other words, if the CPUC shovels money to the utilities through the rate base for the purpose of rebuilding the system, they’re not going to balk at doing so.
Which, from the view from my corner of the world, is exactly what is going on with California investor owned utilities. After SCE, PG&E and SDG&E got caught with their fingers in the maintenance cookie jar after the early ‘90s deregulation nonsense and were subsequently spanked by the powers that be, maintenance work has been non stop. In 1998 the word was work for outside construction utility contractors in California would last ten years. It has continued through the 2008 recession for over 20 years and appears to have no end in sight. California is the reason every lineman west of the Mississippi who isn’t too old or too beat up and wants to work has had a job for all these years.
So, maybe Newsom needs to consider what hinders maintenance of utility infrastructure, such as unreasoning environmentalism which includes at least a partial ban on trimming or removing trees which conflict with power lines and animal issues such as common birds during nesting season. Some reflection on how one party rule turned the once vibrant Golden State into a modern version of the Dark Ages wouldn’t hurt either.

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