PSPS = Profit Saving Power Shutoff

This week Californians were thrust back into the 19thcentury as electrical power was cut for a high wind event that triggered a so-called “Public Safety Power Shutoff”. Over 800,000 utility customers, an estimated 2,000,000 plus people, had their power shut down because it was dry and windy in their area. In reality, this was nothing more than the utility company doing everything they can to protect their profit margins regardless of the cost to the residents they serve.  Of course, the reality is they aren’t the ones who are really at fault for this. 

Yes, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is a heartless, greedy monopoly that would rather spend its record profits on hiking executive compensation, bonuses and donations to Sacramento politicians than on equipment maintenance, upgrades and utility corridor maintenance, but that’s about what you’d expect from them.  It’s the people who have for decades allowed them to get away with it and protected them with laws, administrative rulings and rubber stamp approvals from activist judges in the state. Who are these people? They are your duly elected representatives in Sacramento and these unnecessary power outages are 100% on their heads. 

California’s Public Utility Commission (CPUC), appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate has long been recognized as just another unaccountable government bureaucracy whose cozy relationship and backdoor dealings with PG&E only confirm its lack of independence and willingness to work in the best interest of California residents. It’s role in the so-called “California Energy Crisis of 2000” and later following the San Bruno disaster in 2010 are just two prime examples. 

None of this is possible without the support and groundbreaking legislative work of the California Legislature and Governor’s office on behalf of the power companies and their shareholders. Time after time when the utilities could have been held accountable or could have been made to spend profits on equipment, upgrades and safety, the State of California has instead created laws protecting them. Instead of the companies profits being used for badly neglected safety upgrades over decades, the costs are passed on directly to the customers in the form of ever increasing rates for the now “emergency” upgrades to make the power and gas systems safe. 

The impetus for the new so-called “Public Safety Power Shutoff” program came from the California wildfires of 2018. Some, such as the Camp Fire, which killed 86 people, incinerated 19,000 homes and caused over $10 billion in damages, were directly caused by PG&E equipment. In response to the fire investigation results, PG&E quickly declared bankruptcy to protect itself and its shareholders. 

Let me ask you this. Does it seem normal or appropriate that in 2019, 140 years since the first electrical lines were hung to supply customers with power, that there is no way to keep these lines safe when it’s windy? No, of course not. That’s why power companies invest in new equipment and technology and do maintenance along the power transmission corridors.  Everyone except PG&E it seems. 

PG&E now faces billions of dollars of liability for the fires it caused because they themselves didn’t properly maintain and upgrade their equipment or do the proper maintenance along transmission corridors.  The irony of course is that if they had spent just a small fraction of those profits over the years on safety upgrades and maintenance, they wouldn’t be facing the billions of dollars in losses now… or have killed so many innocent people. Except now, that cost will be passed on to you. 

As far as what brought on this latest outage, it is attributed to dry weather, the presence of dry vegetation near power lines and winds. In other words, absolutely normal daily conditions in many parts of California. 

So what do Californians in the effected zones do?  Scramble to buy generators, overpriced coolers, gas and the last couple bags of ice in the community before the power goes out. Larger businesses were able to secure commercial generators to keep their products from spoiling during the outages. Smaller businesses, the vast majority of those in our communities, aren’t so fortunate. Aside from being out of business for a couple of days, entire stock and inventories were lost.  No power and no burglar alarms means easy going for the state’s criminals. 

For those paying close attention to the outage maps, you may have noticed the tech corridor through Silicon Valley and the immediate area around Sacramento were unaffected. Yes, it’s true. Silicon, computer code, pork and good old-fashioned greenbacks are effective deterrents to wildfire danger. 

The City of San Jose alone estimates it’s loss from the power outages at over $1 million dollars, and this is only the government loss, not the business and personal loss of San Jose residents. Nobody seems to be tallying up the costs for Californian’s, but hundreds of millions to a billion is a reasonable estimate. 

Who is responsible for these losses?  That’s easy, you are. PG&E is not responsible for any losses from a so-called “Public Safety Power Shutoff”. Your lost groceries, store inventory, loss of income, loss of business, accidents, injuries, deaths or crime, are all your responsibility because PG&E warned you ahead of time. Thank you Sacramento!! 

For the PG&E apologists who point out that PG&E is bankrupt and had no choice or ‘would you rather have your community burn to the ground’, I simply point out that this crystal ball reading response to prevent the slim probability of a possible wildfire is purely California utility thing. Everyone else seems to be able to operate in all weather conditions because they do upgrades and maintenance. 

Do I blame the public utility employees? For the most part, no. Most are honest, hard working people who are far removed from these kinds of decisions. At the same time, I take notice of the employees who respond to the electric utility caused wildfires wiping communities off the map by saying ‘hey, I’m on the gas side’. Similar to those who responded to the gas line explosion in San Bruno that incinerated 38 homes and eight people by saying, ‘hey, I’m on the electric side’. Perhaps if those on the inside of the company were to stress safety from within instead of “just doing their jobs”, the company would change from the inside vs. having to be mandated to do normal safety and maintenance operations. 

For his part, California’s Governor said residents should be outraged and infuriated by news of a widespread power shut-off to prevent deadly wildfires but that the utility had no choice. 

As with far to many things, the Governor is completely wrong. The utility did have a choice, in fact many of them over the years. They could have spent money on safety upgrades and maintenance instead of executive bonuses, but they didn’t and this is the result. At the same time, the State of California and the Governor of California could stop giving political and legal cover to PG&E who continue to dip into the bottomless pockets of the California ratepayer. 

If you want this insanity to stop, simply look at who is sitting in Sacramento collecting contributions from the utilities and passing laws to keep them protected from not doing their jobs or investing their millions in profits in upgrades and maintenance. If you don’t want this to continue, it’s time to vote them out. 

Remember; PSPS means Profit Saving Power Shutoff, and you are paying the price. 

Bob

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