Sen. Scott Wiener announces legislation for the state takeover of PG&E (Corey Browning/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

Sen. Wiener announces legislation to take over PG&E

State Sen. Scott Wiener announced legislation Monday to transform the beleaguered Pacific Gas & Electric company into a public utility.

The proposed bill would require the state to begin purchasing all PG&E shares, which would then be transferred to a publicly owned utility, the Northern California Energy District.

“It will put an end to the dangerous roller coaster ride that we have been on for the last decade,” Wiener said at a morning press conference at Civic Center. “PG&E is a failed company.”

PG&E filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection over a year ago amid billions in liability costs for its role in sparking deadly wildfires in 2017 and 2018. More recently, millions were left without power when the utility shut off power to avoid sparking more fires last year.

The embattled utility currently supplies power to the majority of Californians.

The bill would create a publicly owned utility that would contract with a public benefit district, Northern California Energy Services, to employ workers.

The structure would be modeled after the Long Island Power Authority in New York.

According to Wiener, the change would shift the utility’s focus away from profit and instead to providing more reliable, safer and affordable power to customers.

PG&E responded to the proposal in a statement.

“We oppose Senator Weiner’s proposed framework, and PG&E’s facilities are not for sale,” the statement read. “Additionally, changing the structure of the company would not create a safer or cleaner operation.”

Last year, PG&E turned down The City’s $2.5 billion offer to purchase assets that provide San Francisco with power.

But the proposed legislation may not give the utility a choice. The California Constitution allows for the state to decide who provides service as a utility. The state can also use eminent domain powers to force the purchase of the utility, much like Sacramento did in the 1940s to acquire Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

PG&E’s assets are valued at $76.9 billion, according to Fortune.com.

Wiener’s announcement was interrupted by loud shouting from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, a labor union representing 17,000 PG&E employees. The union raised concerns regarding job security and the ability for workers to have their pensions fully vested.

According to Wiener, the legislation would transfer over PG&E’s entire workforce, protecting their union agreements, wages, benefits and retirement.

The bill would not impact San Francisco’s ongoing plan to create a city-owned power supply, or any other city’s ability to create or sustain a municipality, according to Wiener. Community choice aggregators, such as San Francisco’s CleanPowerSF, would continue to operate.

Wiener’s bill will require approval from state regulators as well as Gov. Gavin Newsom.

cbrowning@sfexaminer.com

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