Earlier this month, nearly 2 million Californians were hurt by a “planned” power shutoff by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), a private utility company. The shutoff was part of a botched wildfire management strategy to prevent transmission lines neglected by the company for years from catching fire. Customers received only 24 hours’ notice for a shutoff that lasted up to four days, during which grocery stores sat empty, cleared of basic supplies, and schools were closed. The residents of Paradise, California, displaced just one year ago by massive fires that destroyed their town and killed dozens, found themselves without electricity once again. Thirty thousand of those affected have medical needs that require access to electricity, putting them in harm’s way.
PG&E has been the region’s main electricity provider since 1852, and its history has been marred by mismanagement and corporate greed for decades. It was bailed out by the state in 2000 and again in 2018. In recent years, its blatant political capture, leading to scant regulation and little regard for the devastating effects of a changing climate, has Californians questioning if PG&E can reliably provide a core public service like electric power.