PG&E (Courtesy image)

Breed calls for public power study in wake of PG&E bankruptcy announcement

Following the announcement that PG&E is filing for bankruptcy, Mayor London Breed assured residents Monday there will be no impacts to their power service and asked the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to study possible responses — including transitioning to a public power system.

Options to be considered include buying the existing electrical infrastructure outright, according to city officials.

PG&E announced early Monday morning that it is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as the San Francisco-based utility company faces an estimated $30 billion liability for damages from deadly Northern California fires during the past two years.

The bankruptcy announcement came after the company’s CEO Geisha Williams announced her resignation Sunday. The actual filing is expected around Jan. 29, after Monday’s required 15-day notice.

What this means for the future of San Francisco’s power customers is uncertain. The City has been expanding its CleanPowerSF program, which uses PG&E’s infrastructure to deliver cleaner power to customers than what PG&E offers. More than 280,000 PG&E customers are expected to be automatically enrolled in CleanPowerSF in April, bringing total enrollment in the program to more than 360,000 customers.

“I want to assure San Francisco residents that PG&E’s bankruptcy declaration will not impact their power service,” Breed said in a statement “People will still have complete access to power in their homes, their businesses, and throughout our City. San Francisco’s public power program CleanPowerSF will continue to operate, and San Francisco will continue to invest in our ability to deliver clean power for our residents.”

Breed has directed the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission “to study any near and long-term impacts this bankruptcy will have on our city and to identify any and all options we have to ensure that everyone in San Francisco has access to clean, safe, and reliable power.”

SFPUC’s general manager Harlan Kelly said in a statement that at the request of Breed “the SFPUC is studying the near and long-term impacts of a PG&E bankruptcy and identifying all possible options to ensure continuity for all San Francisco power customers—including the possibility of acquiring or building electrical infrastructure assets.”

State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said in statement he supported “a comprehensive publicly owned electric utility in San Francisco” that would “transform the SFPUC’s public power enterprise into a full power utility for San Franciscans.”

Wiener said that “such an endeavor would be complicated – for example, we would need to ensure fair and equitable treatment of PG&E’s employees – but absolutely worth exploring.”

A preliminary report on the SFPUC’s study is expected within three months.

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