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California congressman calls on the state to take over PG&E

October 31, 2019
In The News

Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, has called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to transform Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) into a customer-owned utility.

PG&E has been under scrutiny after the Oct. 9 power shutoff affected about 738,000 customers, Bill Johnson, the company's CEO, said in a statement. Earlier this week, the company cut off power to about 1 million customers in Northern California in an attempt to prevent wildfires.

About 73% of the customers impacted by the shutoff earlier this week had power restored by early Wednesday, PG&E said. But the company also said it would begin cutting off power to 540,000 customers ahead of stronger winds.

Roughly 365,000 customers in California remain without power, according to PG&E.

Khanna told CNN that a customer or publicly-owned utility would put safety and affordability over profits.

"It could use bonds to raise capital for infrastructure investments like micro grids and line break protection systems. A distributed electricity system puts communities in control of their own power," Khanna said. "They wouldn’t be dependent on big utility company like PG&E. They also will make better use of renewable energy. Silicon Valley Power, owned by the city of Santa Clara in my district, uses 72% greenhouse gas free power and 9% more renewable energy than the state average.”

Newsom blasted PG&E after the shutoff, demanding it "be held accountable" and provide rebates or credits after leaving thousands in the dark and some customers without power for days.

"Californians should not pay the price for decades of PG&E's greed and neglect," Newsom said in a news release.

Khanna claims that PG&E could become a public utility through the courts.

The bankruptcy court could approve the sale of PG&E assets to the state or municipalities with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) having final say on any plan coming out of bankruptcy, Khanna told CNN.

"The state could also use eminent domain to take control of PG&E assets or by some act of the [California] legislature like Sen. Jerry Hill has advocated for. Then municipalities or a new co-op would work with the CPUC to implement the new utility. They’d have to ensure affordable energy for all of PG&E’s service area and honor existing union agreements," he said.