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Because 'For-Profit Motive Does Not Work,' Ro Khanna Backs Public Ownership of PG&E as Fires Rip Through California

Deregulation of the power industry in California started in the late 1990s.

That was around 20 years ago and the infrastructure was allowed to deteriorate in those 20 years. The expansion of housing to the borders of the wilderness areas is also relatively new. Power lines and housing now run through areas more susceptible to fires then they did before. With climate change factored in the situation of more wild fires was created by public policy.

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The industry was re-regulated in the early 2000s and, of course, separate entities producing power from delivery does not equal lack of maintenance. The issue is multifaceted and just because we’d like an easy answer doesn’t mean an easy answer exists.

Your other point about rural areas is true, but again, people are only now adjusting to that reality. It’s sadly something we are all going to be getting used to.

Oh please PG and E lost a lawsuit for negligence on this very matter after the last series of fires. They were not properly maintaining their infrastructure and using the monies to boost profit margins instead. The for profit motive is at the heart of this and in fact a number one driver of Climate Change.


Maybe a public utility wouldn’t burn up its own customers?

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In a region with very dry conditions and strong Santa Ana winds, how wide does a clear cut have to be to be safe from sparking a wildfire, and how many goats have to graze it to keep it safe? Will the public accept that amount of clearcutting?
– In other media, about utilities in other places (such as Seattle) they talk about burying the transmission lines. Which is a whole 'nother cost.

Sounds to me like Zora Renee missed several weeks of first year economics. Businessmen and businesses make profits by pleasing and serving their customers. This, I should emphasize, is the mass of customers individually, not the collective public good. So if a customer wants to build a house up in the fiery hills and pay for building the electric lines to that house, and the electricity, the company is willing to do it, rather than maximize the public good by telling the customer that they can’t provide the electricity and the customer shouldn’t be building a house there in the first place.

To refer to an obvious counterexample, billionaire Oprah Winfrey never took money from anyone. She created a very successful TV show and people willing gave her money to watch it.

With a sufficient amount of competition, the seller might still be tempted to cut corners, but they don’t have the ability to jack up prices. And over the long term cutting corners is a great way to lose customers to the competitor.

Worth recalling that the purpose was 1) to encourage competition in the production of energy, and 2) provide liberty to the woke to purchase clean green energy without requiring the rest of the customers to agree to it. #2 subject to the question of whether clean green is cheaper than standard, or more expensive. Analogy is that most organic foods for years have been more expensive per ounce than the corresponding standard food.

On the general topic of Jake Johnson’s article, I don’t live in California, so it is easy for me to agree that you in California deserve to own your electricity producers publicly. You (not me) will enjoy or suffer the consequences of doing it.

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This needs more thought on how much, if any, money the PG&E company should get if there is a public takeover.

High voltage buried electrical transmission? Is that practical without around a foot of insulation around each wire?

We are in Northern CA where areas are full of undergrowth due to rains the past few years following years of drought. It is a massive job to cut our undergrowth. Another way sometimes are controlled burns. Sadly PG&E was more focused on their profit for their shareholders and not doing the best job. My smaller utility SMUD in contrast costs less and often offers good prices on items like solar.


You are making a huge claim that just doesn’t comport with reality at all. Have you been to Paradise, where the fire occurred you are talking about? Did you know that a decent portion of the land that burned through the town was private, much of it unkept by property owners in a rural area? Which rate payers in that rural area do you want to subsidize burying power lines up there, and which public utility do you propose they form to do this work? Do you know if they can afford to do it and if rate payers in other areas in the county will be on board to help? And do you think forming a public utility will stop idiots from shooting at power lines up there or breaking into electrical cabinets?

Answer those questions because that’s what you need to begin to do to address the problem. It’s all good to say let public authorities take over PG&E, but which rate payers, in which areas, and what public utility, not ideological blabber, is what things come down to in the real world. And in lots of rural areas, there’s not the money or will take over vast swaths of key power infrastructure, and lots of people in those areas wouldn’t want to share with the rest of the state either.

I live in British Columbia. The Power utility is Publicly owned via a Crown Utility. The electricity rates per KWH are scaled and are about half of what they pay in California up until you go over a certain amount of usage per day where the rate climbs for that added usage.

There are long transmission lines covering the Province which is mostly forest and mountain. These lines are better maintained and are rarely the cause of our numerous forest fires. I do not see how this can be improved by “privatizing” it

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PG and E lost a lawsuit and paid out millions in damages for failing to maintain their power lines properly. Why do you continue to insist that never happened?

The power utility in British Columbia is owned by the province. Unlike other jurisdictions they did not privatize it. California owned much more of its electrical grid before they succumbed to the lobbying efforts of private industry like ENRON which made the claims it could provide power more reliably and cheaper then the Public utilities if the industry was privatized and deregulated.

They outright lied and then committed a massive fraud on the peoples of California. This fraud was a direct result of privatization and deregulation.British Columbia is larger in size then California and has more “rural areas” and does not have the issues you suggest inherent in rural areas of California.

Nothing is stopping the Government of California from pursuing Public ownership of its utilities other then lobbyists filling the pockets of politicians with cash.

People like you use the same arguments when attacking medicare for all.

Just as with single payer universal health care It is not “that complicated”. It as simple as removing the for profit motive and turning it into a Public service rather then a profit generator for “the investor class”.


And earthquakes

Public utilities should be public, not private. The job of a public electric company is to make electricity, not money.The privatization of everything was a disaster, and always will be until it is turned back to the public. I won’t add that the people responsible for all this should be drawn and quartered, but that’s what I think.

Nothing except private profits are improved by privatizing public utilities. it is a scam.

If there’s no profit in it why would they?

Blaming a private utility is easy pandering and PGE should have managed thigs better. But we also have to look in the mirror, so many have moved to fire prone areas, so many drive everywhere adding to greenhouse gases, so many want the grid to work bur don’t want to pay for it so regulators to keep rates down even if the needed investments for the long term are not made. Its not just a matter of private ownership, we’ve done the same to our public roads and water lines…


They didn’t lose a massive lawsuit. They reached a settlement with insurers over the fires. A public utility would face the exact same problem if they had hundreds of miles of above-ground power lines running through some of the most drought affected and remote forest in California. Now, to the real world, which you clearly can’t face, which public utility and which rate payers are going to underground hundreds of miles of extremely remote power lines running through the mountains, canyons, and forests of the Feather River watershed to the Bay Area, etc.? Which public utility will manage the Feather River infrastructure? What happens to existing delivery agreements?

You seem to think it’s all just for lack of will, but you aren’t telling me which ratepayers have the will, especially in rural areas. If you say the State, which department? DWR has its own, very significant problems, related to the Oroville Dam Spillway failure. Tell me which state department and save the empty ideological will-to-believe stuff for someone else.

Exactly. But people here want to believe magic, as usual.

The For-Profit Motive, … is a motive only for SOME, and needs not take into account any overall effects or collateral damages on the population as a whole.

The People’s Well-being does not enter into the equation. Democracy is not SEEN, … much less SERVED.

This is not how deregulation in California worked. Public utilities still remain—SMUD is the sixth largest in the country—but it was investor owned utilities that were pushed to sell off power production and purchase it on the spot market. In this scheme, PG&E owned the lines, but bought power from someone else.

You really should read in advance of making claims such as you are. It was only partial deregulation, primarily of non-public utilities, and only of the spot market.

Before those rates can be compared, one must account for the cost of producing that electricity. British Columbia can produce more electricity by cheap hydro-electric power than their demand. (And might sell excess to California :slight_smile: ) California can’t produce enough electricity, counting all sources including the ones they want to phase out, and the public risks rolling blackouts on hot days.

Corollary question #1: How much talk is there in BC about removing dams so that the salmon can go upriver to spawn?

Then how does wildfire risk compare? California has more hot dry and windy weather than BC, and more homes built in fire risk areas than BC I will bet. I bet that in BC you can just let most fires burn, and don’t bother fighting them.

And corollary question #2: I’ve heard that housing costs in Vancouver BC have gotten as expensive as the worst in California. What is metro-Vancouver doing about it, and how successful have they been?