A PG&E truck outside the Embarcadero substation. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Elected officials propose reorganizing PG&E as customer-owned firm

Mayors from 22 California cities and five county supervisors Tuesday proposed turning PG&E into a customer-owned utility, according to a letter the 27 sent to the California Public Utilities Commission.

The idea comes as the utility faces criticism from elected officials including Gov. Gavin Newsom over mismanagement and greed. Officials including Newsom have criticized the company for having to implement widespread power shutoffs affecting millions of people to prevent its equipment from starting catastrophic wildfires.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection following wildfires in the North Bay in 2017 and the Camp Fire in Butte County in 2018. Those fires have left the company with possibly billions of dollars in liability.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who signed the letter, said on Twitter Tuesday, “Power is too valuable + critical to be influenced by profits.”

Multiple other Bay Area mayors joined Schaaf in signing the letter, including San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin.

Liccardo tweeted Tuesday, “It’s time to align PG&E’s financial interest with the public interest-by letting its customers become the owners of the company.”

Liccardo said the change is long overdue.

PG&E is based in San Francisco and serves about 16 million people in Northern and Central California with natural gas and electricity. The company is regulated by the CPUC. PG&E has about 5.4 million electric customer accounts.

The Camp Fire killed 85 people, according to Cal Fire. The cause is still under investigation.

Eight fires in the North Bay in 2017 were caused by electrical equipment that failed, according to Cal Fire. More than 24 people died in the fires.

Newsom said on Twitter Tuesday, “For decades, PG&E failed to prioritize public safety. Their lack of safety investments left PG&E-and nearly half of Californians-with an antiquated electrical system that is vulnerable to weather events.”

The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January and filed a bankruptcy reorganization plan in September.

Company officials said at the time of filing the plan that PG&E’s liability would be limited to $17.9 billion if the court approves that plan.

Schaaf said, “Rather than reorganize a failed company, I support exploring a new customer-owned utility that prioritizes people over profits and creates a safe, consistent power supply for all residents.”

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