In 2019 our education working group lead a conversation about utilities and PG&E’s history. The following is the result of our research.
PG&E was aware in 2013 that the transmission towers of the Caribou-Palermo line needed extensive work – but delayed repairs for five years, until after a malfunction on this line sparked the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history. (The Mercury News, 2/27/19)
A federal investigation into the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion in 2010, which killed 8 people, found that PG&E had spent $83 million less on gas line maintenance than it was supposed to, ignored employee concerns about faulty equipment, and falsified safety records. (NYT 3/18/2019; NPR 10/14/2018) In 2016 PG&E was found guilty of six felony counts for the San Bruno explosion, including violating federal safety standards and obstructing federal investigators. (Mercury News, 8/9/2016)
An investigation by CAL FIRE concluded that PG&E’s poor maintenance of its power lines caused the 2015 Butte Fire, which burned more than 70,000 acres, destroyed more than 500 homes, and killed two people. (Sacramento Bee, 4/28/2016)
In 1997 PG&E was convicted of 739 counts of criminal negligence for failing to trim vegetation in accordance with safety regulations, which started the Trauner fire in 1994 and was responsible for numerous other fires in the 1990s. (SFGate, 6/20/1997)
PG&E encouraged its vegetation management contractors to cut fewer trees to save money in rural areas, and cut tree safety patrols by 25% in 2013. (NBC Bay Area 9/8/2017)
So what did PG&E do with your money instead of spending it on critical maintenance?
An investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) after the Trauner Fire in 1994 found that between 1987 and 1994, PG&E diverted $495 million from its maintenance budget to boost corporate profits. (Salon 10/9/2019)
According to the CPUC, prior to the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion PG&E diverted $100 million from gas safety and operations to pay dividends to its stockholders and bonuses to its executives. (SFGate 1/13/2012)
Since 2000, PG&E has spent more than $160 million on political lobbying to influence California politicians, including more than $2 million this year alone – after declaring bankruptcy! (LA Times 9/13/2019, Sacramento Bee 11/4/2019)
PG&E paid its stockholders billions of dollars in dividends over the past decade, including $798 million in 2017 and $925 million in 2016. (Reuters, 4/2/2019)
PG&E has taken your money, and instead of performing crucial maintenance they’ve boosted their own profits, paid off their shareholders, and given big bonuses to their executives. The results have been fires, explosions, and power outages that have killed dozens of Californians and caused billions of dollars in damage. Now they’re bankrupt, and hoping that Sacramento and hedge fund investors will bail them out.
Let’s put people before profits. It’s time for the public to control our own energy grid and stop our money from being used to line the pockets of PG&E’s executives and investors.