If you are interested in moderating this debate, please contact event organizer Deborah through this website.
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) is a regulated investor-owned utility that has been the main gas and electricity provider for much of California since 1852, and its history has been marred by mismanagement for decades. Between bailouts, bankruptcies, falsified safety records, shoddy infrastructure, pipe explosions, devastating wildfires, and unnecessary power shutoffs, many have been questioning whether PG&E is up to the job of providing a vital public service to millions of Californians.
Some have called for the state of California to take over PG&E, arguing that an investor-owned utility by its very nature is simply unable to promote a culture of safety and responsibility, because its priority is the welfare of shareholders, not the public. They maintain the government can deliver lower cost service because it doesn’t operate for profit, can borrow at lower rates and would not pay exorbitant executive salaries. While some California municipalities have carved out their own locally-controlled utility districts, advocates for state control argue that simply increasing the number of local utility districts with PG&E responsible for areas not under local control would redirect funds to cities and away from the sparsely populated rural areas that also happen to be the areas most threatened by wildfire. State control is essential to insure that all residents have access to safe and reliable energy.
Others maintain there is nothing inherently wrong with an investor-owned utility service. Just last month, Governor Gavin Newsom pointed to investor-owned San Diego Gas & Electric, a utility that’s drawn wide praise for hardening its grid and bolstering its wildfire prevention efforts, as an example of how PG&E should have handled power shut-offs. Opponents to state control also argue that while the state obviously needs to improve its regulatory oversight of PG&E, replacing one poorly run bureaucratic monopoly with another is unlikely to serve the public interest. California’s current system already allows locally-controlled utility districts, which will increase in number if PG&E does not fix its problems; thus these locally-controlled districts provide a useful competitive spur to reform. With state control, there would be no competition and thus no disincentive to prevent the inevitable slide into DMV-style mediocrity.
So what do you think? Is PG&E incapable of serious reform? Does the problem lie with the profit-motive or inadequate regulation? Does the California utility system just need a few tweaks or a major overhaul? Would the state provide better service?
Join us at the next SFDebate to explore and debate these and other questions. Note that $5 will be charged at the door for all attendees (to offset room rental costs).