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California Capitol Tim Hearden
The California state Capitol in Sacramento.

Hey, I have an idea -- let's become Venezuela!

Commentary: Newspaper articles pining for a public takeover of PG&E don't explain how it would happen

Some random thoughts amid the hustle and bustle of the approaching holidays …

Utility futility. My colleague Todd Fitchette made some very salient points recently about the dubious nature of a call by 50 organizations for Gov. Gavin Newsom to seize control of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. because of backlash over its planned blackouts and its role in several recent deadly wildfires.

Todd rightly makes the point that because PG&E has to pay well beyond market value for the power that it is mandated to buy, that leaves less money for the utility to do the kind of maintenance that’s clearly needed.

And as Salinas Valley engineer Brian Curtis noted during a recent innovation summit in Tulare, the push to use electricity to power everything from cars to smart phones has added pressure to the power grid even as natural gas plants have difficulty being approved and as nuclear power is going away. So you have expensive electricity that’s only going to get more expensive, even further eating away at maintenance.

But what all these newspaper articles pining for a public takeover don’t explain is how it would happen. They all act as though Newsom could just snap his fingers and the company’s $68 billion in assets would be magically his.

I have an old newspaper reporter’s bird’s-eye view of everything, so I certainly don’t know the details of law regarding the licensing of utilities. But I think anybody who assumes PG&E would simply throw up its hands and walk away amid a forced state takeover is in for a rude awakening.

I’ve heard talk of a negotiated buyout, which seems more plausible. But even with that, I would anticipate a legal process that could take 10 years or longer to complete. Just look how thorny an issue it’s been for PacifiCorp to transfer four dams on the Klamath River that it no longer wants. And moreover, if the state can wrest control of a major utility from its investor owners, what’s to stop the administrators from claiming ownership of anything they want, like your farm?

Having the state simply take over may sound good to young activists and reporters, some of whom have yet ot own anything but their car.  But it would be a very Venezuela thing to do, which is why I wouldn’t put it past California to try.

Settled science. Climate agnostic that I am, I had three separate people send me the press release you’ve probably read or heard about, breathlessly announcing that “11,000 Scientists Cry ‘Climate Emergency!’ as Trump Begins Withdrawal from Paris Agreement.”

Problem is, as the blog PowerLine points out, it wasn’t signed by scientists but just random people who put their names on a web page. Among them: “Mouse, Micky [sic], Professor, at the Micky Mouse Institute for the Blind, Namibia.”

Well, that settles it. If we’ve lost Mickey Mouse, we’ve clearly lost the planet.

TAGS: Regulatory
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