“I have a message for PG&E,” California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted last month. “Your years and years of greed. Years and years of mismanagement. Years and years of putting shareholders over people. Are OVER."
Aged and poorly maintained power lines are indeed increasingly susceptible in high wind events. But PG&E is under a tangled thread of pressures: investors, ratepayer advocacy groups, and regulators. As an investor-owned utility, PG&E maximizes value for shareholders by investing in new energy development, not maintaining infrastructure. And the company is regulated by both state and federal bodies, which are primarily focused on keeping costs low.
Fixing the grid is going to take a lot. PG&E, formed almost 115 years ago, is responsible for electric and natural gas services in a 70,000-square-mile-area. But we see a window of opportunity: as a result of declaring bankruptcy this year, PG&E will undergo reorganization. Now is the time to focus on grid resilience and maintenance.