Lawmakers consider public takeover of PG&E


Eddy Yeretnov

These PG&E long range transmission lines in the heart of Silicon Valley were spared from the power outage in Redwood Shores on the Oct. 26.

While PG&E goes through its public safety power shutoff program and the Kincade fire rages on, many lawmakers, both local and federal, consider a public takeover of the bankrupt utility.

PG&E is facing bankruptcy over the damages caused in the 2018 Camp Fire. Now, with PG&E at the mercy of bankruptcy court, the state of California has the opportunity for a public takeover if PG&E can’t find an adequate path to restructure and pay off damages.

Recently, over 3 million residents of northern California lost their power during the Oct. 26 power shutoff event

“[During the shutoff, we couldn’t use water because our] sewage injection pump relies on electricity to pump it up the hill. We didn’t know how full our tank was, so we couldn’t let any water go down the drain, flush the toilets, or take a shower,” said Aiden Truel, a senior.

Some government officials have voiced their concerns, questioning the reason behind the power outages.

“In the 21st century, when you have a state that has Apple, Google, and Tesla in it, there is no excuse that we can’t get power to our people on a regular basis,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents much of Silicon Valley.

The power outages have caused many to doubt PG&E’s management. Currently, Gov. Gavin Newsom is preparing for a scenario in which the state has to take over the utility. 

“PG&E as we know it may or may not be able to figure this out. If they can’t, we are not going to sit around and be passive. The state will prepare itself as a backup for a scenario where we do that job for them,” Gov. Newsom said.

PG&E has responded to the calls for its takeover by explaining their willingness to work with lawmakers.

“We welcome the governor’s and the state’s engagement on these vital matters and share the same goal of fairly resolving the wildfire claims and exiting the Chapter 11 process as quickly as possible,” said PG&E officials in a statement.

But despite PG&E’s promises, many insist that the state take control of the utility. 

“PG&E, as we know it, cannot persist and continue,” Gov. Newsom said. “It must be transformed with a safety culture first and foremost as part of that fundamental transformation.”

Gov. Newsom has found support in other government officials as well.

“I’m calling on Gov. Newsom to support turning PG&E into a customer-owned utility. We need to have more municipal public utilities providing energy,” Rep. Khanna said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders shares a similar perspective, voicing his support for the potential takeover.

“It is time to begin thinking about public ownership of major utilities,” Sen. Sanders said.