Post Camp Fire - PG&E woes

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Post Camp Fire - PG&E woes

#1 Post by highdesert » Tue Jan 08, 2019 4:22 pm

California's largest public utility provider could face murder or manslaughter charges if it were found responsible for causing the state's recent deadly wildfires, according to court documents filed by the state attorney general.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co., or PG&E, could potentially face a range of criminal offenses if any of the wildfires broke out as a result of the utility failing to properly operate and maintain power lines, per an amicus brief filed in US District Court Friday by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/30/us/calif ... index.html
California’s largest power company faces an existential crisis as it confronts the looming possibility of tens of billions of dollars in wildfire liability. Shares of PG&E Corp. — which owns Pacific Gas & Electric Co. — sank 22.3% to $18.95 on Monday after reports that the utility could face at least $30 billion in liability related to fires and has considered filing for bankruptcy protection or unloading its natural gas operations. The consequences of bankruptcy or an asset sale could ripple far beyond the utility’s shareholders, some experts say, affecting 16 million Californians who depend on PG&E for energy and potentially threatening the state’s ability to meet its climate-change goals.

The utility has faced tremendous scrutiny over the last decade, starting with a 2010 gas explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno and continuing with among the deadliest and most destructive fires in state history, some of which may have been sparked by PG&E’s infrastructure. The California Public Utilities Commission is considering breaking up the company as part of an investigation into PG&E’s safety culture. Some PG&E critics have called for a government takeover or for the massive company to be replaced by smaller, municipal utilities. But it’s far from clear that local governments across Northern and Central California have the ability or the desire to take control of PG&E’s infrastructure, and to assume the huge liabilities that running the power grid entails. And state officials aren’t likely to support a takeover because then the utility’s problems would become Sacramento’s problems instead.

“For the state to take over every bit of the wildfire liabilities is just insane,” said Mike Gatto, a former state lawmaker who led the Assembly’s utilities committee. PG&E declined to comment on specific steps it may be considering. In an emailed statement, spokesman Andy Castagnola said the company is “reviewing structural options to best position PG&E to implement necessary changes.” “Safety is and will continue to be our top priority as we work to determine the best path forward for all of our stakeholders. PG&E remains fully committed to helping our customers and the affected communities recover and rebuild — and to doing everything we can to reduce the risk of future wildfires,” Castagnola said. The fundamental challenge is that PG&E isn’t like most private companies. It’s the only entity authorized to deliver electricity to 5.4 million homes and businesses, and gas for home heating and cooking to 4.3 million customers. The company’s geographic reach spans nearly half the state, from Eureka to Bakersfield.

The Public Utilities Commission is eager to avoid a Bankruptcy Court proceeding, in which a federal judge would control the company’s fate and the interests of creditors would be placed above those of ratepayers. Commission President Michael Picker has said California won’t let PG&E go bankrupt. He compared the process of reforming the troubled company to “repairing a jetliner while it’s in flight.” “Crashing a plane to make it safer isn’t good for the passengers,” Picker said in a statement last month. For one thing, a bankruptcy could lead to higher rates for PG&E customers. The company filed for bankruptcy once before, in the midst of the early-2000s energy crisis that stemmed from a failed deregulation scheme and led to rolling power outages in much of the state. The crisis made California a riskier place to invest, which led to higher borrowing costs for PG&E and the state’s second-largest investor-owned utility, Southern California Edison. Those costs were passed on to utility customers in the form of higher rates, said Michael Colvin, a former top official at the Public Utilities Commission.

“It probably took 5 to 10 years for California to shake that risk premium that happened after the energy crisis,” said Colvin, who now works as a senior manager for the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group. Renewable energy developers, meanwhile, are worried a bankruptcy filing would make it more difficult for California to meet its environmental goals. California law requires the state to get 60% of its electricity from climate-friendly sources by 2030 and 100% by 2045. Developers say meeting those targets depends on financially viable utility companies that can sign long-term contracts to buy electricity from solar and wind farms or from other clean energy facilities. Those long-term utility contracts allow developers to secure financing to get their projects built. “We have tens of billions of dollars worth of contracts with PG&E to meet the state’s climate change goals and its renewable energy goals. A bankruptcy would be very disruptive, basically put those contracts potentially in danger, and would send potentially a very negative signal in terms of future development in California,” said Jan Smutny-Jones, chief executive of the Independent Energy Producers Assn., a trade group that represents renewable energy and natural gas developers.

Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, a ratepayer watchdog group, has a different worry. He’s afraid PG&E might play up the risk of bankruptcy as a scare tactic, to persuade state lawmakers to shield the company’s shareholders from huge potential liability from Northern California’s 2017 Tubbs fire, which killed 22 people, and the 2018 Camp fire, which killed 86 people. He pointed to the Legislature’s approval last year of Senate Bill 901, which allows PG&E and other investor-owned utilities to charge ratepayers for some of the costs they may incur from 2017’s deadly fires. “PG&E threatened bankruptcy last year and got their bailout. And they are threatening bankruptcy again and are asking for another bailout. That’s not sustainable,” Toney said. Toney described bankruptcy as a “bad option” but still better than business as usual at California’s biggest utility. He said dramatic changes are needed to transform PG&E. “There needs to be some sort of fundamental reorganization. Whether that will be accomplished through a new board of directors, new management, or someone else coming in to run the franchise, or the company being broken up into different components, we don’t know what the real proposals are out there,” Toney said.

A sale of PG&E’s gas business, the possibility of which was reported last week by National Public Radio, wouldn’t fix the utility’s safety problems. But it could help the company pay down billions of dollars in wildfire-related costs. For now, it’s unclear how realistic such a sale would be. PG&E’s guaranteed customer base and its nearly 50,000 miles of natural gas pipelines would almost certainly attract potential buyers. But a sale would need to be approved by the Public Utilities Commission, which could require any buyer to take steps to protect ratepayers. Another obstacle is organized labor, a politically powerful group that is already objecting to a potential sale. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represents more than 12,000 PG&E employees, roughly 3,000 of whom work on the gas side of the business. Tom Dalzell, business manager for IBEW Local 1245, said a sale of PG&E’s gas assets would be “a long and complicated process with many opportunities for our members to lose something,” from retirement benefits to career options.

Ratepayer advocates would scrutinize a sale too. One key question: Would the buyer be a utility with a strong safety record or a hedge fund looking for a quick profit? “We certainly don’t want to exchange one bad actor for another bad actor,” Toney said. Another complicating factor: Selling natural gas in California is a business that may have a limited lifespan. The state has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The burning of natural gas for electricity and heating accounts for a significant chunk of those planet-warming emissions.
https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi- ... story.html

The death toll in the Camp Fire stands at 86.
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Re: Post Camp Fire - PG&E woes

#2 Post by highdesert » Tue Jan 08, 2019 4:56 pm

PG&E Corp. shares continued plunging and bonds dropped to all-time lows on Tuesday after S&P Global Ratings slashed the electric company’s credit grades to the middle of the junk spectrum from investment grade, citing its limited options for managing wildfire liabilities.
S&P cut the company’s rating five levels to B, the fifth-highest junk rating, from BBB-, the lowest investment-grade level, according to a statement late Monday. More cuts may come, it said. Fitch and Moody’s Investors Service still rate the company at investment grade. A spokesman for PG&E said in an email Tuesday the company’s board was “actively assessing” operations, finances, management, structure and governance while maintaining a commitment to improving safety.
Bond graders Moody’s and Fitch Ratings have the company under review for further cuts. The firms started cutting in November as PG&E faced potential liabilities from 2017’s wildfires that could top $17 billion, according to a JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimate. The company had about $430 million of cash on its books at the end of September.

If Moody’s follows with a cut to high-yield as well, PG&E may face a cash collateral requirement of at least $800 million to guarantee power contracts, according to a regulatory filing. No other ratings triggers have been disclosed. PG&E has suspended its dividend and fully drawn its lines of credit. It is considering filing for bankruptcy as soon as February, people familiar with the situation said Friday. State lawmakers and regulators are looking at options including allowing the company to issue bonds to pay its liabilities, or breaking up the utility.
https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi- ... ed-content
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Re: Post Camp Fire - PG&E woes

#3 Post by CDFingers » Wed Jan 09, 2019 8:33 am

LATimes, SacBee, and KCRA all reported about the bullet holes and casings found.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/13/us/pge-c ... index.html

That would eliminate liability for the fire. It may be so that some dumb gun owner did this. Most unfortunate.

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Re: Post Camp Fire - PG&E woes

#4 Post by highdesert » Fri Jan 11, 2019 1:28 am

Embattled Northern California utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. may be ordered to inspect its electric grid and turn off power during windy conditions to prevent wildfires this year, a federal judge proposed Wednesday. U.S. District Judge William Alsup said in his court order that the recommendations to cut power during certain wind conditions, regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit, would be to prevent devastation like the kind that ripped through the region last year.

"This will likely mean having to interrupt service during high-wind events (and possibly at other times) but that inconvenience, irritating as it will be, will pale by comparison to the death and destruction that otherwise might result from PG&E-inflicted wildfires," he wrote. Fire season in California runs from June 21 to the first region-wide rainstorm in November or December, according to KTVU. Alsup gave PG&E until Jan. 23 to respond to his proposal, which comes after he began demanding answers from the utility on any role it may have played in the Camp Fire. That blaze started Nov. 8 and killed at least 86 people, destroyed 14,000 homes and leveled Paradise, a city of 27,000 residents.

PG&E reported an equipment malfunction at the time and location where the fire started, causing the company's stock to plummet. Fire officials have not yet officially said what caused the blaze, but have focused on power equipment. Alsup noted in Wednesday's order that state fire investigators have determined PG&E caused eighteen wildfires in 2017, twelve of which they referred for possible criminal prosecution. The company faces $15 billion in damages and cleanup costs and numerous related lawsuits for the 2017 blazes and could face billions more in damages if investigators determine its equipment started the state's most destructive fire. Alsup, who accused the utility of a "history of falsification of inspection reports," proposed the utility to remove or trim any trees and repair any damaged transmission equipment that could cause wildfires. He's also considering ordering the utility during the 2019 wildfire season to supply electricity only to those parts of its electrical grid it has determined to be safe under wind conditions at the time.

PG&E has previously cut power to thousands of customers because of high fire danger but told regulators last year that weather conditions didn't warrant shutting the power off the day the Camp Fire erupted. The utility said in a statement Wednesday it was reviewing Alsup's order. "We are committed to complying with all rules and regulations that apply to our work, while working together with our state and community partners and across all sectors and disciplines to develop comprehensive, long-term safety solutions for the future," the company said.
https://www.foxnews.com/us/california-u ... e-proposes
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Re: Post Camp Fire - PG&E woes

#5 Post by highdesert » Sun Jan 13, 2019 9:19 pm

PG&E Corp., facing billions of dollars in wildfire liabilities, may notify employees as soon as Monday that it’s preparing a potential bankruptcy filing, according to people familiar with the situation. The San Francisco utility owner is planning to send the notice to fulfill a state law that requires the company to alert workers at least 15 days before a change of control, said the people, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public. The notice wouldn’t necessarily make a bankruptcy filing certain and the company could still decide not to if its situation changes, one of the people said. PG&E declined to provide a statement, saying the company doesn’t comment on rumor or speculation.

A notice may signal that the company has accelerated plans to make a Chapter 11 filing as way of dealing with crippling liabilities from wildfires that tore through California in 2017 and 2018, killing over 100 people and destroying hundreds of thousands of acres. Investigators are probing whether PG&E’s equipment ignited the deadliest of the blazes. The company is facing as much as $30 billion in damages — a prospect that has wiped out two-thirds of PG&E’s market value, sent its bonds plummeting to record lows and prompted rating companies to downgrade PG&E’s debt to junk. California passed legislation last year in the aftermath of the deadly wine country fires requiring utilities to post public notices for employees at least 15 days before a change of control, including a bankruptcy filing.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a news conference Thursday that his office would be making an announcement related to PG&E within the next few days and that the issue was at the top of his agenda. He said in a later interview that the announcement would involve appointments to the California Public Utilities Commission, the state’s grid operator and to a commission established by the Legislature to explore wildfire issues. Newsom is “monitoring the situation very closely,” Nathan Click, a spokesman for his office, said Saturday.

PG&E’s deepening financial crisis has already spread to the companies that supply its natural gas and generate electricity for its customers. At least two small gas suppliers have restricted sales to PG&E out of concern that the company won’t be able to pay, people with direct knowledge of the situation said earlier this week. Some banks are taking a long look at a potential $2-billion debt financing for the Geysers, the world’s largest geothermal complex, because it supplies the utility, people familiar with the matter also said this week.

On Thursday, S&P Global Ratings cut the credit rating of Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s 550-megawatt Topaz Solar Farms to junk, noting that the plant counts on PG&E for all of its revenue. People familiar with PG&E’s situation said last week that the company is considering filing for bankruptcy within weeks.
https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi- ... story.html
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Re: Post Camp Fire - PG&E woes

#6 Post by highdesert » Mon Jan 14, 2019 10:35 am

Geisha Williams, chief executive of PG&E Corp., stepped down from the troubled San Francisco-based company, which is on the brink of bankruptcy due to tens of billions of dollars of damages it could be forced to pay. Williams, 57, has run the company since March 2017, during which time PG&E has faced a string of both natural and self-inflicted blows that have marred the utility’s reputation and financial health. Williams also stepped down from the boards of the holding company and the utility, PG&E said in its statement Sunday. While a search for her replacement is conducted, the position will be filled in the interim by John Simon, a 12-year veteran of the company who has served as executive vice president and general counsel since 2017.

“While we are making progress as a company in safety and other areas, the board recognizes the tremendous challenges PG&E continues to face,” said board Chairman Richard C. Kelly, in the statement. “We believe John is the right interim leader for the company while we work to identify a new CEO. Our search is focused on extensive operational and safety expertise, and the board is committed to further change at PG&E.” Williams could not be reached for comment but in an email to Bloomberg she said, “I value the opportunity I’ve had to lead PG&E and wish all of my colleagues well,” without detailing the reasons for her departure.

PG&E has seen two-thirds of its market value wiped out since November’s Camp fire — which killed 86 people and is the deadliest wildfire in California’s history. Investigators have been probing whether the power giant’s equipment ignited the fire.
The Public Utilities Commission is eager to avoid a Bankruptcy Court proceeding, in which a federal judge would control the company’s fate and the interests of creditors would be placed above those of ratepayers, who could face higher rates. The company filed for bankruptcy once before, in the midst of the early-2000s energy crisis that stemmed from a failed deregulation scheme and led to rolling power outages in much of the state.

Under Williams, PG&E spent millions of dollars trying to convince state lawmakers to change a legal doctrine known as inverse condemnation, under which utilities are liable for damages if their equipment is found to have sparked a wildfire, even if they weren’t negligent. Williams called the doctrine bad public policy that made utilities the default insurer in the state. She said the wildfires were a symptom of climate change, as hotter and drier conditions spark more frequent and more intense blazes. Although state lawmakers rejected PG&E’s request to change wildfire liability law, they did pass legislation in August that will help PG&E pay for lawsuits arising from the wine country fires. In November, however, the utility’s equipment again was being looked at as a possible source of the Camp fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise.

Support for PG&E’s management eroded even further in December when state regulators accused the utility of falsifying records related to locating and marking underground gas lines from 2012 through 2017 — years in which the company was trying to convince the public that it had cleaned up its act after the 2010 pipeline blast.
https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi- ... story.html

What effects PG&E could effect SC Edison, SC Gas and SDG&E and other states.
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Re: Post Camp Fire - PG&E woes

#7 Post by CDFingers » Mon Jan 14, 2019 11:21 am

Nationalize. I know it sounds all socialismy. Just declare them utilities and pay for them through taxes, which should be the same or less than the original pg e cost. I think it can save things. After exit orange, of course.

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Re: Post Camp Fire - PG&E woes

#8 Post by highdesert » Mon Jan 14, 2019 4:05 pm

CDFingers wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 11:21 am
Nationalize. I know it sounds all socialismy. Just declare them utilities and pay for them through taxes, which should be the same or less than the original pg e cost. I think it can save things. After exit orange, of course.

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It's one solution, there are cities throughout the state that have their own utilities, in reality they have long term contracts not sure if it's cheaper. The problem with "nationalizing" utilities is assuming their debt and in the case of PG&E and SCE it's huge. I had relatives who owned stock in Cleveland Electric and other city owned utilities in past decades and it was stable over the years, but times have changed. I had Montana Power and Light when I lived in that state and then they caught the deregulation bug and got greedy and they were history and Montana now suffers. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/who-killed ... 6-02-2003/

I'm not sure the PUC has strongly defended our rights and I'm not sure that they are the best ones to run our utilities. With Republican or Democratic governors the PUC has favored the utilities.
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Re: Post Camp Fire - PG&E woes

#9 Post by Hasaf » Mon Jan 14, 2019 8:19 pm

CDFingers wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 8:33 am
LATimes, SacBee, and KCRA all reported about the bullet holes and casings found.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/13/us/pge-c ... index.html

That would eliminate liability for the fire. It may be so that some dumb gun owner did this. Most unfortunate.

CDFingers
I can't help but think that if I were CEO of PG&E, I would be tempted to hire some people to find a shot up transformer. They would need to understand that they needed to find one, "no matter what it takes."

For that matter, for a small, whole number, percentage of the potential loss that PG&E is facing, I am pretty sure I would be able to find a shot up transformer; and I could find it wherever it needed to be found. Yes, I am a bit sceptical of "shot up transformer" finds.

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Re: Post Camp Fire - PG&E woes

#10 Post by DavidMS » Mon Jan 14, 2019 8:39 pm

Hasaf wrote:
Mon Jan 14, 2019 8:19 pm
CDFingers wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 8:33 am
LATimes, SacBee, and KCRA all reported about the bullet holes and casings found.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/13/us/pge-c ... index.html

That would eliminate liability for the fire. It may be so that some dumb gun owner did this. Most unfortunate.

CDFingers
I can't help but think that if I were CEO of PG&E, I would be tempted to hire some people to find a shot up transformer. They would need to understand that they needed to find one, "no matter what it takes."

For that matter, for a small, whole number, percentage of the potential loss that PG&E is facing, I am pretty sure I would be able to find a shot up transformer; and I could find it wherever it needed to be found. Yes, I am a bit sceptical of "shot up transformer" finds.
We can only see where this goes. I hope that it turns out to be a red herring. We don't know where the investigation will go. It would be pretty cool if it turns out to be evidence tampering by PG&E but I am not optimistic.

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Re: Post Camp Fire - PG&E woes

#11 Post by highdesert » Mon Jan 14, 2019 10:43 pm

State Cal Fire investigators are working on the Camp Fire. Hopefully there is enough evidence at the source of the fire including the transformer and any bullet holes, shell casings and maybe bullets. The potential liability is huge so I'd expect investigators to take a very long time because it will eventually end up in court. Meanwhile...
[Judge] Alsup noted in Wednesday's order that state fire investigators have determined PG&E caused eighteen wildfires in 2017, twelve of which they referred for possible criminal prosecution. The company faces $15 billion in damages and cleanup costs and numerous related lawsuits for the 2017 blazes...
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Re: Post Camp Fire - PG&E woes

#12 Post by highdesert » Tue Jan 15, 2019 7:22 am

Columnist David Lazarus.
When PG&E announced Monday that departing Chief Executive Geisha Williams will receive a golden parachute of as much as $4.5 million as the Northern California utility heads once again into bankruptcy, my first thought was, “Are you kidding?” Then I remembered what company we’re talking about and I thought, “No, of course not.” PG&E has a long and unfortunate history of enriching its executives while displaying the most shameless corporate behavior imaginable. I know what I’m talking about. PG&E and I go way back.

Before I became the paragon of consumer advocacy you see before you, I was shanghaied by my employer at the time, the San Francisco Chronicle, into covering the California energy crisis that introduced us to “rolling blackouts” nearly two decades ago. That meant San Francisco-based PG&E became ground zero for my reporting, and it didn’t take long for me to establish myself as the utility’s biggest pain in the you-know-what. Such as when I reported in 2001 that PG&E handed its top brass $17.5 million in bonuses for being such good guys, except for, you know, steering the utility into bankruptcy. Or when I reported in 2004 that, after giving themselves $83 million more in bonuses that year for doing such a good job during the bankruptcy proceedings, the utility’s senior executives gave themselves an additional $89 million in bonus money a few months later for, well, doing such a good job during the bankruptcy proceedings.

Or when I reported in 2006 that PG&E was spending $25 million to replace a 32-seat, propeller-powered plane with a much spiffier private jet for its executives. The company said in a regulatory filing that it needed the new aircraft “to meet utility objectives.” Such as when PG&E flew its top execs and a dozen business partners to San Diego in 2003 for the Super Bowl? A utility spokesman told me at the time that the Super Bowl junket was an example of “customer relationship management.” PG&E’s biggest problem isn’t that the utility keeps finding itself in hot water. Its biggest problem is that it responds to corporate crises in the most tone-deaf, thoughtless ways possible.

The company moved its annual shareholder meeting in 2000 to Boston, which was too far from its California home base for most protesters to follow. It just so happened that the Julia Roberts movie “Erin Brockovich” was released only weeks earlier, dramatically detailing how PG&E had allegedly poisoned the drinking water of the Southern California town of Hinkley, allegedly tried to cover up the problem, fought lawsuits accusing the utility of giving people cancer and then settled the case in 1996 for $333 million. I flew to Boston for the shareholder meeting. It wasn’t hard for me to sneak into the luxury hotel dining room where PG&E board members would feast that night on gourmet food — which was the last image the company wanted while trying to convey to the public that it had turned over a new leaf since Hinkley. Brockovich — the real woman, not the movie — and I chatted in 2002. She was spearheading legal efforts at the time to hold PG&E accountable for allegedly poisoning the Kings County town of Kettleman Hills. “They did what they did, and they're going to pay for it,” she told me. Her boss at the Los Angeles law firm of Masry & Vititoe, Ed Masry, played so memorably in the movie by Albert Finney, told me the case against PG&E was rock-solid. “We have clients who are literally dying,” he said. “We will prevail in the end.” That lawsuit was settled in 2006 for $295 million.

One thing I learned in covering PG&E was that the company’s rank-and-file workers were exceptionally dedicated, trustworthy people. They were genuinely aggrieved by how their managers had treated customers and employees. One in particular — I never learned the person’s identity — made sure I understood what was happening at the highest levels of the utility by leaving me envelopes full of confidential documents at a secret drop behind a statue in the lobby of a San Francisco office building. I heard that senior execs would regularly complain about my work at meetings. Bob Glynn, PG&E’s CEO and chairman at the time, reportedly responded: “Is he wrong? No? Then let’s move on.” I liked Glynn. He was old school. I got along reasonably well with the head of the company’s utility subsidiary, Gordon Smith.

But it was clear from my interactions with both men that they had no flair whatsoever for public relations, and were so busy circling their wagons to protect themselves and shareholders that they completely lost track of ratepayers being asked to shoulder the company’s financial woes through rate hikes and surcharges. This current bankruptcy is different from the earlier one. Back in 2000 and 2001, PG&E and other California power companies were, to a large extent, victims of circumstance. They were being screwed by Enron and other out-of-state energy companies, which were viciously gaming the system to profit from our vulnerabilities.

This time, PG&E is facing billions of dollars in legal jeopardy for possibly playing a role, through faulty equipment, in California’s costly and deadly wildfires. The new bankruptcy filing is intended primarily to keep lawsuits at bay and possibly facilitate a sale of some or all of the utility’s assets. But the decision to allow the company’s CEO to announce her resignation prior to the bankruptcy filing and remain eligible for millions of dollars in severance — that’s the PG&E I know from days gone by. They say we learn from our experiences. In PG&E’s case, the only lesson learned from repeat PR disasters is how to make bad situations worse.
https://www.latimes.com/business/lazaru ... story.html
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