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PG&E could shut off power across Bay Area on Wednesday and Thursday (berkeleyside.com)
156 points by bookofjoe 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 135 comments



I think they don't want to be liable for fires anymore. And they're not "liable" for cutting power to prevent fires. Problem solved, at least from a legal standpoint.


It is this. ...but personally I think they're also trying to be obnoxious about it so that they can garner some political favor for state-backed liability protections or something to end the "blackout crisis" they're actively generating.


They're also a monopoly... so penalties to PGE just become penalties to Californians... and actually we were just notified about a increase in our bills to cover their legal costs... https://www.actionnewsnow.com/content/news/Lawmakers-Vote-to...


With this set up we get the worst of both worlds from a consumer perspective, we might as well just make PGE a state owned entity at this point.

Right now their profits and equity are privatized but losses socialized, what absolute nonsense


I do not understand what the state of California gains from the pretend private status of PG&E. Seems like an unnecessary concession to the free market freaks for something that's naturally and obviously the domain of a government (public utility).

Just make PG&E public already, the current legal status is a joke.


> And they're not "liable" for cutting power to prevent fires.

State granted monopolies must serve the public good. If, as a broadcaster, I just can't manage to keep our transmitter on -- we're going to lose our license to someone who can.

Either PG&E needs to explain why they can't do appropriate line maintenance or needs to have their lines put up for bidding.


I'm actually a little sympathetic at this point. How can you be expected to spend money fixing problems when the fines and lawsuits in the aftermath of the last crisis have bankrupted you?

Obviously ideally they never should have let maintenance get so neglected in the first place, but here we are... how do we get out of this hole?

I'm of the opinion that the state should assume ownership of PG&E in exchange for bailout money, just as was done with some banks a decade ago. Use public funds to stop the bleeding and make headway on fixing the problems that caused all this in the first place. If that means drastic leadership changes, so be it. Once PG&E is back on its feet and has proven it can be responsible, the shares owned by the state can be sold back to the public, presumably for a tidy profit.

We should also examine the regulatory environment around all this to figure out what contributed to the current state of affairs, and try to set up PG&E's next incarnation for success.

Another interesting option could be to strip PG&E for parts, and let smaller municipalities (city, county, region) buy up the infrastructure, take care of repairs (likely with funding support from the state), and run in perpetuity in a more distributed manner. I imagine there are certain efficiencies in having ownership more centralized in theory, but clearly that hasn't worked in CA for decades.


I'm actually a little sympathetic at this point. How can you be expected to spend money fixing problems when the fines and lawsuits in the aftermath of the last crisis have bankrupted you?

How? Pretty easily I suppose, especially if you're blowing your safety budget on executive bonuses.

https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/PG-E-diverted-safety-...


[flagged]


Ah, this old thing. Let's avoid dry areas with wood, places that are susceptible to earthquakes. Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Volcanic activity. Tsunamis.

The world is a more complex place than you'd like.


Won't fix the root of the problem, which is that PG&E or its' successors can be held liable by the state for having power equipment running through a forest that's ready to burn at the drop of a hat. What should have been a simple case of Force Majeure has instead turned owning any part of the power grid into the equivalent of owning a minefield.


No, you're dead wrong. PG&E conducted unnecessary maintenance at, and/or didn't perform proper maintenance before, the peak of fire danger, causing the Camp Fire and let it get out-of-control. They must be held completely responsible for their intentional negligence and the deaths of 100+ people (only 90 or so were identified, it's likely unknowable how many more were burned to ash because most homes were so completely consumed that only metal remained) who were cremated in their homes. Right now, they're lying about it because money and using the taxpayers to bail them out also because, you guessed it, money. And how'd they get the laws passed in California to give them favorable treatment? You also guessed it: money (in politics).

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/31/reuters-america-update-2-pge...

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bankruptcy-pg-e-idUSKCN1L...

These power-cuts are safety theater, virtue-signaling tokenism. More people will die from lack of air conditioning, medical device power and lack of communication during emergencies than will be "saved" from these pointless, alert-fatigue-inducing CYA/retribution power-cuts.

PS: Printed in Paradise, CA on recycled electrons. I'm still chipping away at the remnants of a blue wheelie bin that melted and burned into a puddle/ring on aggregate concrete. Oh and insurance wouldn't pay to replace dirt which became toxic below what was shed... more socialized costs, $600 just for that.


That's a good point, but I for one don't necessarily think that it is a given that serving power to all people, no matter where they choose to live, is automatically "the public good."

If the cost of maintaining and delivering service per capita to less dense areas is too high, it might be in the public good increase prices to those areas or stop service.


Legal standpoint improved. Public perception of the monopoly on the other hand...


Map of affected areas:

https://www.pge.com/en_US/safety/emergency-preparedness/natu...

Most reasonably dense areas are not affected, for some values of reasonable. If you live anywhere near a eucalyptus-fueled tinderbox, probably your power will be cut.


Welcome to the new dark ages, courtesy of our PG&E overlords.

I noticed that in the list of counties, SF isn't there. That's fascinating. Is that because they're SFPUC? But doesn't SFPUC get power by way of PG&E transmission lines? Do they have their own generation and/or transmission capacity to survive?

Also, what about Santa Clara (the city, not the county)? They have their own electric utility too. Do THEY have enough capacity to do their own thing?

It's gonna be stuff like this that'll kickstart the next recession. Just break the back of the valley's economy and the rest will take care of itself.


I noticed that in the list of counties, SF isn't there. That's fascinating. Is that because they're SFPUC?

Most likely San Francisco doesn't have the sorts of transmission lines PG&E is worried about. A fair chunk of the power lines in SF are underground, and there aren't that many places in SF with tons of fuel where you're going to see hot, dry, windy weather like you would in rural Napa or Contra Costa.


The electricity still has to be generated somewhere. That somewhere is usually quite far away (nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, coal/oil/natural gas powered facility). The generated energy now needs to be transmitted (via transmission lines across the country side) and distributed (via substations)[0].

GP's main remark was how are these major metropolitan areas generating the electricity they are distributing? Is generation near the city, or is PG&E shying away from turning off power for thousands of business and millions of users for political reasons.

[0] A great video about electricity generation, transmission, and distribution (and subsequent in-depth videos of each step) can be found here: https://youtu.be/v1BMWczn7JM


GP's main remark was how are these major metropolitan areas generating the electricity they are distributing?

Fossil fuels. There's a plant in Antioch and there was, up until about a decade ago, a plant in BVHP.

Is generation near the city, or is PG&E shying away from turning off power for thousands of business and millions of users for political reasons.

Oh give me a break. No, San Francisco is not being spared because it has political clout. San Francisco doesn't have the same combination of environment and poorly maintained above ground high energy transmission lines that PG&E is worried about.


Well, that power has to come from somewhere, and it’s not from within SF.


Well, that power has to come from somewhere, and it’s not from within SF.

Up until 2006 there was indeed a power plant in southeast SF. More importantly getting power from elsewhere doesn't necessarily mean creating the kinds of situations PG&E is trying to avoid by creating lengthy blackouts.


They are worried about downed power lines causing fires...SF being urban does not really need to worry about downed power lines causing a forest fire within the city


"The shutoff, potentially lasting from Wednesday morning until Thursday afternoon, is meant to target fire-prone areas only"


> Welcome to the new dark ages, courtesy of our PG&E overlords.

It sounds like PG&E are universally unpopular, but don't forget the contribution we have made to this.

Welcome to the carbon consequences world, courtesy of mankind. Strap in, it's going to get worse from here.


> SF isn't there.

i'd guess SF wanting to buy its piece of PG&E has some role here https://www.kqed.org/news/11773007/san-francisco-offers-to-b...

naturally a power shut-off would drive support across the board for the deal, incl. the bond, etc.


They’ve been sending notices for months they may be shutting off power. The fear they seem to be trying to generate, it almost seems like they’re gonna try to ransom power, raising rates or get bailed out.


Last year when they shut off power (north of the Bay) they were criticized for not giving enough warning.

I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be in this situation, but given that we are, I’d prefer the warning.


I really wonder what the increased risk is of people using gas generators instead. I suppose from PG&E's perspective this isn't their liability but it still concerns me.


Expect to see a spike in Powerwall sales (battery storage in general really). You even get the 30% federal tax credit if included with your rooftop solar system.

If you have enough roof, and if your consumption profile is appropriate, you can run without utility power indefinitely.

Tesla already kicked off storm watch mode for folks with Powerwalls in the areas affected to precharge them to 100% prior to the scheduled outages.


100% off-grid is economically not the most cost effective as you have to oversize capacity for peak too much. Current consensus is that 70% is the sweet-spot. Off grid will be taxed when the uptake becomes less niche. The benefits in terms of (partial) autonomy will remain.

Since my previous comment where I said there will be clawbacks for lost revenue by the grid operators was downvoted, let me quote from relevant studies [1]:

"It should be noted that, in a scenario in which {such systems} undergo a significant uptake, this mechanism is unsustainable since it generates revenue shortfalls for government, municipalities and system operators. These losses of revenues need to be somehow compensated, either by increasing the network tariffs or by changing the tariff structure, e.g. switching from a volume (i.e. per kWh) remuneration to a fixed or to a capacity remuneration for the grid connection. Interestingly, this modification of the tariff structure is already ongoing in various EU countries"

[1] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333420646_Techno-ec...


As utility rates increase to offset grid defections as storage costs come down, a death spiral occurs (already occurring in Germany as you mention) [1]. I think it'll be politically untenable to attempt to rake people over the coals financially, but TBD at this time.

It's not necessary to oversize your system for peak load either; you can opt to instead shed large loads (AC), thereby reducing your capital costs for average system loads (lighting, refrigerator, etc).

[1] https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/this-is-what-th...


AC is pretty rare in Europe

I agree, but I included it for the sake of argument. Any self supporting power system without AC is much easier to accomplish.

Obviously if your energy needs are reduced and your potential energy production remains equal, then your personal energy autonomy becomes easier.

That does not mean there is no difference in where that budget reduction comes from. AC is typically active when it is hot, usually when there is lots of PV potential. You are using more energy when your own energy production is higher.

Suppose you do not have AC but instead electric heaters, then it is reversed. You are requiring more energy when your own production is lower.

So even if your total energy budget would be the same, the former scenario would involve less strain than the latter on energy autonomy because of how consumption would correlate in time with production or not.

From the grid's macro perspective, in an environment without much AC (or other appliances following the same consumption pattern), it has to potentially absorb (or refuse) much more energy delivered to it when demand is lower, while being able to still satisfy demand when it peaks and supply potential is reduced.

At that grid level scope, widespread AC usage, even though in aggregate using far more energy and thus net negative, might be easier to smooth out demand wise and thus easier to satisfy.


I mean—I live in the Oakland Hills myself. Nobody out here would be able to get solar. Our roofs/land is covered in trees.

Also at 15k for a powerwall, it'd make more sense just to get a hotel for these blackouts.


Depends on how long the blackouts are for and how frequent they are. The longer they go on, the more economic sense it makes.

Also, a Powerwall is about $7k + install, not $15k. After the tax credit, that’s about $50/month over 10 years (more if you buy two Powerwalls instead of course). $600/year is almost what you’d approach spending a few nights a year in a hotel without any of the hassle.


Fair enough, the website defaults to 2 powerwalls for some reason.

I wish I could get solar. My family and I will likely just be sitting around in the dark for a couple days.


Also expect a claw back by the energy sector, probably under the form of an extra tax on batteries the receipts of which will turn up in the private company coffers, to cover their 'losses'.


This is insane. Those power lines should've been put underground years ago.

California seems to always build infrastructure on the cheap.


Hopefully all the tech talent in the bay area will start working on local energy generation to send pg and e into proper bankruptcy


pg&e owns the grid. A lot of bay area residents generate their own power, but we all rely on pg&e for interconnect.

And without grid, solar panels shut themselves off.


> And without grid, solar panels shut themselves off.

By legislation, not by technical necessity.

> A lot of bay area residents generate their own power, but we all rely on pg&e for interconnect.

I am aware. This is a legal thing that the legislature refuses to correct. They've granted PG&E a monopoly and won't stand up to them properly. When I was a California resident, I contacted my congressman about it almost monthly, and got the same response: sorry can't do anything


Well played, PG&E. Well played.


I don't agree with this. Instead of California law makers fixing the problems with the forests, they put the blame on PG&E. The state is just making the problems worse by advocating that it's okay to miss-manage forests. We're fighting one extreme problem with an extreme measure and solving nothing.


lol, ladies and gentlemen we have our dear Potus amongst us.


Please stop posting unsubstantive comments to Hacker News.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


We don't even have PGE service in Palo Alto but they're telling us we'll be cut off too. In 2000 we were subject to the rolling blackouts for reasons of "solidarity" even though Palo Alto had access to power.


PG&E still runs distribution even if you buy electricity from another provider.


PG&E

Gone by the wind ...


“Choosing San Francisco in 2020 is like choosing Java in 2010... Proven, but makes it harder to do simple things and doesn’t give you an advantage over incumbents” -Balaji S. Srinivasan


Yet Java is still a defacto choice even today.

Arguably minimal fuss & stable. Java code written today will still run without change in 5 years. Can't say the same of other languages.

What other language would you recommend for a large eng organization of 1000+ ppl?


I would argue that in an organization with 1000+ developers, trying to pick a single language is doomed regardless of what that language is.


You literally could not pay me to program in Java. I've written non trivial code in over twenty languages, but Java, php, and perl are so bad for team projects that I would rather find a different job.


I was ready to be sarcastic here, but I'm curious which of your 17 other languages do you prefer? And why? And to do what?

I've always found that Java particularly shines in team settings in a way that a lot of individual productivity languages like python and Ruby fall down atleast.

Obviously there is a broad spectrum of other languages between and beyond them, but which do you prefer?


My favorite for a decade was Python, but it falls down in bigger teams and projects. A little better these days with the static typing available and proper linters and formatters, but not my first choice anymore.

I like Go and Rust the most these days. Not because they're perfect by any means, but they avoid a lot of traps of the other languages and scale well for the whole lifecycle of actual software development in teams.

Java is bad for a few reasons. The JVM makes everything an object on the heap, which means you're always in a war with your garbage collector. You have to run in bigger machines with plenty of memory headroom. There's a lot of backward compatibility cruft, like the fake generics. The worst part is the people though. The language is too mainstream but not hard enough to weed out the bad coders, and they make a mess out of the code base.


Streams and lambdas have really helped reduce boiler plate. Libraries like Lombok reduce it even further.


Python (3.x, as 2.x is mostly deprecated) can do and there are plenty of libraries around. Not just for data science, but about everything under the Sun.

For performance-critical sections, you can plug in C/C++, wrapped in Python APIs.

A 500K SLOC project in Python might be unwieldy, though.


> Python (3.x, as 2.x is mostly deprecated) can do and there are plenty of libraries around. Not just for data science, but about everything under the Sun.

Unfortunately there's no great way of managing all of those dependencies for build and deployment.


> Java code written today will still run without change in 5 years. Can't say the same of other languages.

That’s only half true now that Java actually has a steady release cycle. There were plenty of breaking changes from 8+.


As a polyglot, I have to say this is a misleading and false equivalence. The upgrade treadmill in Java is nothing like the upgrade treadmill in any other popular language - certainly not Javascript, Python, Ruby, or Go.


It's nowhere near as much as those languages but it's also nowhere near as seamless as it was for prior versions. Non-trivial applications and libraries do break going from 8 to 8+ (usually on the way to 9 but sometimes 11 as well).

This is in contrast to the legendary backwards compatibility of 1.4 to 1.5 to 6 to 7 to 8.


What languages can't run 5yo code right now?


Squeak. Also, see things like CodeSpark.

A5 y.o. usually has a limited command of the natural language yet.


What? Come on man, at least give me a ColdFusion or something.

You can say the same with plenty of languages.


Golang


I can't think of a single use case where Java is more useful than C++. Unless it is the "we've hired some Java programmers, now what do we do with them" use case.


Android apps? How about pretty much any web app?


Worth including the rest of the quote:

"We’re in an interesting transitional era where San Francisco / Delaware is obviously* wrong but incorporating on-chain and going full remote is not yet obviously right."

(i.e. he's advocating using blockchains to define your legal entity and building a distributed team worldwide for your employees.)

https://twitter.com/balajis/status/1149073637325979648?lang=...


That seems like such a weird combination of outwardly sensible and utterly batshit ideas to me. Remote work can be successful and SF increasingly seems like a terrible, dystopian place, but how the hell does blockchain solve the same problem as legal incorporation? Can you take a blockchain to court to stop people from seizing your personal assets to cover your business debts?


The blockchain is the court (and bank, and law). Each investor and executive and the corporation itself has its own address, and control over only that address. As with regular corporations, investors transfer cash from their own address to the corporation's address to fund it. Unlike regular corporations, repayment can happen automatically, with no lawyers needed to enforce it - a smart contract simply deducts the requisite payment from the corporation's address to the creditor's address every month, and triggers liquidation proceedings if the required amount is not present. Since said smart contract would have access only to the corporation's bank account, there is no risk of a creditor seizing your personal assets.


When my "corporation" goes broke, my creditors can still go to an actual court of law. And if I don't have a real-world LLC or corporation to provide limited liability, the court will rule that I am liable for those debts. Even if the "contract" was only denominated in some sort of cryptocurrency, that has exactly as much legal bearing as a contract obligating me to deliver copper: if I don't deliver the copper, the court will award damages in legal tender.

Frankly, this smells a lot like some straight up sovereign-citizen-tier pseudolaw. If you actually try to do business this way, you're going to be in for a rude awakening when the actual court system still ends up exercising jurisdiction over you.


I like to say that smart contracts are basically the opposite of legal contracts.

Legal contracts are not self-executing but carry the weight of the legal system.

Smart contracts are self executing but if a mistake is made or the contract is buggy it is essentially moot legally.


If you replace the SF part with the distributed team part, is there any real advantage to using 'blockchain' corps vs delaware corps?


A lot cheaper, with less administrative hassle. DE C-Corp incorporation will run you a couple grand, with minimal annual fees in the few hundreds, and you have to do various administrative tasks like file your annual reports (on a website that looks like it was made in 1995), hold annual meetings with minutes (even if it's just yourself), re-elect yourself President every year (even if you are the only shareholder), etc. If there are any disputes or anything is done incorrectly, you're looking at tens-to-hundreds-of-thousands in legal fees.

The blockchain dream (which still needs a lot of tooling and infrastructure) is that you fill out a form once, incorporation and annual maintenance is basically free, and most of the mundane legal stuff is enforced by software for very small fees. He also mentions nation-states as a configurable parameter: basically this would mean that moving your company's legal jurisdiction would be as simple as updating a form field, and nations would have to compete to retain businesses.


Is that machinery actually real in any way? Just because you write something on a database somewhere doesn't give it any sort of special legal status, which is why people register for corporations in specific jurisdictions, so those jurisdictions treat their organization differently than something informal.

Formation costs aren’t that high these days unless you need a lawyer for special circumstances: https://www.delawareregisteredagent.com/incorporation-form


Please note that this is not an official site of the state of Delaware, but is a private entity completely unaffiliated with the state of Delaware. I was burned as their customer once, and investigated how they're put together when something felt off.

It's a shell company of "Northwest Registered Agent", a shadowy company that has dozens of shell companies for each state and does SEO to get them to the top when you search how to register a company in these states. They're not reputable and you should absolutely stay away from them in the future. If you see onlineaccount.net in any of the source code for the page, or if it directs you there after login, it's the same shell company.


Folks looking to incorporate should be aware that there are a lot of scams in the space. Aside from this one, there are a zillion companies that will try to sell you labor law posters for ~$100 (which you can print out for free from the Department of Labor's website), and there are companies that scan public records filings for approved incorporations and automatically squat on the domain name and try to sell it back to you for $1000. Make sure you register your domain before incorporating and then transfer it from your personal account to the corporate one.

You also actually do need a registered agent, but probably not that one. I incorporated through Clerky (which is reputable, YC uses them), but it costs much closer to $1000 than $50, and then Clerky has a partnership with CSC (Corporation Services Company) to act as the registered agent. CSC itself will try to upsell you on various services that you don't technically need.


Honestly, find a reputable attorney in the region you want to incorporate and file through them. It may cost a few bucks more, but it's worth it.

I’ve formed a lot of companies with them and never had lousy customer service.

YMMV but you are right that they aren’t a government agency.

They provide a legal agreement template between founders as well as registered agent services.


Don't all of these still cost $1000/yr in California franchise fees if you so much as touch CA?


Funny quote, though it should be noted San Francisco isn't included in the shut off area


Maybe not this week

I was in SF for the deliberate rolling blackouts in 2001

EDIT: it’s different in the reason, but it’s equally preposterous to have such badly managed infrastructure


I was in SF for the rolling blackouts in 2001 (and all around the bay area)

This is quite different, and the rolling blackouts were statewide.

Edit: The rolling blackouts were the result of letting Republicans draft hamfisted deregulation legislation. The resulting greed saw Texas energy companies fuck California about as hard as they could. What's happening now is also related to greed in that it's cheaper for PG&E to shut off power to prevent wildfires than it is for them to maintain their equipment. PG&E burned down huge swaths of California over the past couple years so they're being a bit more cautious now. The big difference is that while most inhabited parts of the state will want reliable power, the risk of fire is not equal. So where previously we all got fucked by PG&E's greed, now it's just those situated where PG&E runs high voltage transmission lines near combustible materials.


Texas managed to deregulate power around the same time, and it's worked out pretty well, moving from Washington to Texas I saw a near 20% reduction in my energy rates.

The problem isn't deregulation alone, it's that generation was stripped from distribution, but retail sales wasn't decoupled from distribution.


The ‘deregulation’ in California was designed to allow Enron to game the system. The blackouts were Enron gaming the system.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_electricity_crisis


Your assertion for designed isn't backed by your source, and had California fully deregulated the market, the swindle by Enron likely wouldn't have been possible, as public opinion would have goaded the legislature into action - but because the end consumer wasn't feeling any pain, no change was possible.


Enron lobbied at both Federal and state levels for their version of partial deregulation which they could (and did) game. That's also covered in my cite.


Texas managed to deregulate power around the same time, and it's worked out pretty well, moving from Washington to Texas I saw a near 20% reduction in my energy rates.

According to Texas Coalition for Affordable Power (TCAP): "deregulation cost Texans about $22 billion from 2002 to 2012. And residents in the deregulated market pay prices that are considerably higher than those who live in parts of the state that are still regulated. For example, TCAP found that the average consumer living in one of the areas that opted out of deregulation, such as Austin and San Antonio, paid $288 less in 2012 than consumers in the deregulated areas."


We should just force them to maintain power when doing this even if it costs more than whatever fee they have to pay residents. I don’t even live over there but this is a huge inconvenience and I wouldn’t mind spreading out the extra costs for making sure it’s done safely to keep giving these people power.

The biggest bullshit is that now that PGE knows they’re too big to fail, they don’t even have to give a shit when they piss people off. If North Berkeley residents sued in a class action suit the state of California would probably just bail them out.


PG+E isn’t “too big to fail” at all, they just went bankrupt!

The real issue here is that PG+E is responsible for wildfires caused by power lines, and they don’t have many ways to deal with it. They aren’t allowed to raise rates to pay for more anti-fire measures. They can spend their fire prevention budget smarter, but at some point the gains there are maxed out. One of the few things they can do is to shut off power during times of high fire risk.


They aren’t allowed to raise rates to pay for more anti-fire measures.

They don't need to. They could cut back or eliminate their dividends, cut back executive compensation, stop buying back stock, etc., etc.

They cut back their line crews ages ago (plenty of cost savings there), and if San Bruno is any indication, PG&E hasn't bothered to keep records (additional cost savings) for quite a while.


Well they could, but:

1) Those options, similar to spending the fire protection budget more smartly, also cap out at some point.

2) One of the reasons things like executive compensation get out of control is because they are a rounding error vs. the overall corporate spending. Cutting that back to the bone is not likely to be materially helpful.

3) "cut back or eliminate their dividends, ... stop buying back stock"

They may as well shut down the company (which is what they are doing on a temporary basis). There is no reason for them to be shouldering increased risk if the reward is reduced compensation. If that is the way the game gets played only idiots would be willing to own and manage a power company. It is more comforting to think that power companies are being managed by intelligent and rational people.


They may as well shut down the company

As I said PG&E makes a really great case for municipal power.

There is no reason for them to be shouldering increased risk if the reward is reduced compensation.

Fire prevention reduces risk. Conversely, this reduced risk scenario you're talking about has resulted in PG&E going bankrupt twice this century.

As for exec compensation and buybacks, PG&E spends a few hundred million dollars annually buying back stock. The fire prevention budget doesn't need to be infinite, but $200-300 million would go a long way. KTVU identified three SVPs who make around $500,000 annually. Yes, that's not a ton of money compared to PG&E's income, but a couple extra million could easily pay for brush/fuel removal.

https://ycharts.com/companies/PCG/stock_buyback

http://www.ktvu.com/news/despite-bankruptcy-pg-e-executive-g...

Edit: Per the KTVU article, that half a mill per SVP is the base salary, so bonuses and non-cash compensation aren't included.


Actually having a vital utility in private hands is a guaranteed recipe for getting service that is optimize for making the most profit rather than providing the best value.

You might be lucky in the honeymoon period where the company is still getting entrenched, but once that is over and getting them out again is not that easy, you will gravitate to minimal service, especially in areas that require investment, and being bled dry and fleeced for wathever they can.

Large risks that would require preventive maintainable or modernization to mitigate will be ignored as the company knows they will be bailed out should it come to that.

And all this because of the neoliberale dogma that the private sector is somehow always 'better' than the public sector.

In reality large. organization of equal size have the same efficiency problems, regardless of them being public or private sector. And before you point to a leaner small private champion in a competitive field you should systemically add the cost of the dozens or even hundreds of competitors they are 'beating'.

The advantage you have when things are not in the hands of the private sector is that you can prioritise ongoing quality and value of service provisioning over maximisation of short term profit extraction.


Cut their income in half and get 1.5 million which is 0.008% of PG&E's income. Then those three SVPs will leave and you will need to hire three more which won't be cheap. How much do you think a SVP in a company making 18 billion a year should be paid? That sounds like a lot of responsibility to me and the people qualified for the job will expect to be compensated accordingly. Anyway, I doubt you would come out in the green at the end of this pointless exercise.


How many SVPs do you need?

And what makes you think you can't find a competent manager for $250k a year?


Because you can get much easier jobs that pay $250k? And because jobs at that level at other big companies frequently pay much more than the current $500k, even? Basically, you're going to get outbid for the people you want.


Being a vice president doesn't seem particularly hard, as jobs go. The 99th percentile for income is $300k, and there's no way the difficulty even approaches that percentile.

Can you name some much easier jobs that pay that much?

You'll always be outbid for the absolute best, but I see no reason you wouldn't have plenty of viable candidates when you're offering >98th percentile income for a management job.


Being a developer at one of the big tech companies is much easier than being an SVP in a big org, as one example. From what I've seen, you need to be extremely type A to succeed as an SVP most places.


That might pay $150k, which is significantly less.

Also being "extremely type A" doesn't sound like a difficulty, really. And I don't see how it justifies 99th percentile pay either.


There’s a lot wrapped up in that statement about being extremely Type A. Like responding to emails after hours within 5 minutes. Maybe you don’t think that’s difficult, but it certainly means sacrificing a lot of your home life in a way that a lot of jobs don’t involve.

And yeah, you clearly haven’t been keeping up with dev pay scales at big companies if you think it tops out at 150k. I knew people at $300k total comp a few years out of school, and senior engineers can make far more.


If you're one VP of many, you might have to work out of hours occasionally, but you can have a special emergency line that's only used ten times a year. You don't need to sacrifice your life the way a small business CEO might have to.

> And yeah, you clearly haven’t been keeping up with dev pay scales at big companies if you think it tops out at 150k.

Okay. I don't know any of these devs and just did a search.


Check out levels.fyi for a good source of salary info if you want to get a better picture.

SVPs at big companies run entire divisions of thousands of people. They make it to those levels by being workaholics and politically adept.


Maybe right out of school with no competing offers

There are 24 year olds at LinkedIn and Facebook making $300k


And Google. Def possible to be a high performing L4 or even L5 at 24.

It’s also one of few levers to hold executives accountable for their decisions and actions. The other being jail time.


So the salaries of the VPs of Human Resources or Finance should be cut? Anyway, most their salary is probably in stock options so it's already happened.


VPs are technically not executives. In a corporate structure, the Board of Directors and the their reports (CEO, Presidents, etc) are the ones actually making decisions and managing the company overall.

For example, the CEO of PG&E before 2019 was https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geisha_Williams .

Here are the PG&E filings to the SEC: http://investor.pgecorp.com/financials/annual-reports-and-pr...

2017: http://s1.q4cdn.com/880135780/files/doc_financials/2017/annu...

2018: http://s1.q4cdn.com/880135780/files/doc_financials/2017/annu...

2019: http://s1.q4cdn.com/880135780/files/doc_financials/2019/05/2...

Ultimately, if something in a company goes wrong, the buck needs to stop at the CEO and if not CEO, the board of directors. In the end I guess only we shareholders are to blame.

For lower performance between 2016 and 2018, the CEO got a raises each year (snippet from 2019 page 81):

Name and Principal Position: Geisha J. Williams(a) Chief Executive Officer and President, PG&E Corporation

    year salary    bonus stock award                                    total
    2018 1,079,167 0     6,400,078    1,600,003 0       40,341  170,253 9,289,842
    2017 991,667   0     6,500,168    0         0       996,810 108,575 8,597,220
    2016 695,833   0     2,250,072    0         610,594 519,983 87,748  4,164,230
Check PG&E's stock performance between those years - the compensation does not match reality. I'm saying that these listed officers shouldn't be getting the compensation they are getting as it's not reflective of the health of the business they're running.


So the salaries of the VPs of Human Resources or Finance should be cut? Anyway, most their salary is probably in stock options so it's already happened.

I just quoted the base salary (a.k.a. cash) of three SVPs.


Well, that's not important my main point anyway (see my other comment) and it wasn't clear in the un-edited post.


it wasn't clear in the un-edited post.

The article I linked to stated very early on that it was discussing base salary.


> As I said PG&E makes a really great case for municipal power.

So if a power pole is owned by the government it suddenly becomes non-flammable? That isn't based on the laws of physics.

There is a strategy that makes countries fantastically wealthy: only do things that are profitable. Running the energy grid for no profits is not a path to broad-based success, it only results in taxpayers paying for things that have no marginal value. If it makes sense with electricity then there is no logical reason not to try the same strategy with gasoline, food and shelter. At some point the damage goes critical and Venezuela happens.

Also, buybacks aren't primarily a form of executive compensation; I'm no expert but they look like a work-around for double-tax issues in the American income tax law. A buyback is a method of transferring money -> stock holders and in this context is basically just a dividend.

I've no idea what is going on in California, obviously, but strategies like 'nationalise it!', 'stop the capitalists raising prices!' and 'Stop people profiting from their investments!' are just classic arguments that hurt everyone in the long term. Literally caused societies to collapse in extreme cases.


> If it makes sense with electricity then there is no logical reason not to try the same strategy with gasoline, food and shelter.

Those aren't natural monopolies.


They can spend their fire prevention budget smarter, but at some point the gains there are maxed out.

For those following along at home, after blowing up a San Bruno neighborhood PG&E diverted $100 million of money earmarked for safety. Where'd that money go? Executive bonuses and dividends. They have plenty of money for improvements and there is zero need for rate increases.

https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/PG-E-diverted-safety-...


PG+E isn’t “too big to fail” at all, they just went bankrupt!

Twice, since deregulation. Zero times, in the century before deregulation.


PG&E makes an excellent case for municipal power (sadly they fight every effort tooth and nail). Rather than forcing PG&E to do anything I'd settle for jail time for the management.


PG&E should be forced to do better safety maintenance. But it's too late to do anything else this week. They have to de-energize lines in high risk areas. We can't have a repeat of last year's fires.


Quite different because badly managed infrastructure vs badly managed infrastructure?


Yes, the situations are quite different because you're looking at environmental factors versus purely financial greed.

As fun as it seems to be for folks to shit all over San Francisco, neither the rolling blackouts of the early 2000s nor the preemptive blackouts this week have anything to do with city or county management.


  the result of letting Republicans draft hamfisted deregulation legislation
California's ludicrously gameable "deregulated" energy market of that time was set up by the leadership of the Democrat-controlled Assembly and the Democrat-controlled California Senate, then signed into law by Democrat Governor Gray Davis.

CA Republicans were powerless to "draft" anything.


California's ludicrously gameable "deregulated" energy market of that time was set up by the leadership of the Democrat-controlled Assembly and the Democrat-controlled California Senate, then signed into law by Democrat Governor Gray Davis.

You need to go back a bit further than that, back to Republican governor Pete Wilson and Republican author of the bill Jim Brulte. Wilson knowingly set up his successor (Gray Davis) to fail.


  Republican governor Pete Wilson and Republican author of the bill Jim Brulte.
'Democratic State Senator Steve Peace was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy at the time and is often credited as "the father of deregulation".'[0]

Again, Democrats controlled both the Assembly and Senate throughout the process, and ever since. Bill contents are amended at will both in and out of committee, and "gut-and-amend" (removing a Bill's language wholesale and replacing it with that of a completely different bill to avoid rules about committee review) is so common, that term was coined for it.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_electricity_crisis#...


You conveniently missed the next two sentences:

The author of the bill was Senator Jim Brulte, a Republican from Rancho Cucamonga. Wilson admitted publicly that defects in the deregulation system would need fixing by "the next governor".


"The next governor" was a Democrat, and both houses of the Legislature were (and continue to be) Democrat-controlled from that election on, often with supermajorities.

As for the Brulte bill, not one Democrat voted against it in either house (77-0 in the Assembly, 39-0 in the Senate). It was shepherded through by Senator Peace and Assemblymember Martinez. Peace continued to claim parentage until after the resulting disaster.


All of California. And people went to jail (Enron): https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_electricity_crisi...


Ah, yes. Buy back your own power at markup while idling other power plants in order to not meet demand locally. Thanks Enron and the deal makers in the great state of California.


I really doubt SF will ever be deemed a high forest fire risk area.


Java got a lot better since 2010. I really enjoy writing Java though I'm writing mostly Go lately it seems.


Why is this the top comment. What does that have to do with this story at all?


Wow, really? A whole day without power? This is actually gonna happen?


Wow, really? A whole day without power? This is actually gonna happen?

I went a day (well, 22 hours so I don't qualify for any compensation from PG&E) without power last month because PG&E is hilariously incompetent and understaffed. As was already pointed out, PG&E is predicting 5+ day outages for some folks.

https://www.sfgate.com/california-wildfires/article/PG-E-pow...


They're talking about between 1 and 7 days without power. It is possibly going to start Wednesday. Napa County is reporting they expect a 5 day outage.


Nearly the entire state of Connecticut was without power in 2012 for a few days. Where we lived, city of 100k, we didn't have power for a week.


Went without power for a week in the middle of Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy. I lived on the 10th floor too and our elevators didn’t get restored for over two weeks due to the basement flooding.




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