Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , ,

PG&E should belong to Californians. Not to its Wall Street shareholders.

Charlie Eaton, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

As the lights went out across California this month, residents wondered if we will ever fix PG&E — the nation’s largest for-profit electric utility.

Some predictably joked that we should simply unleash the power of that mythical institution, which some economists still refer to as the “free market.” But PG&E’s latest failure illustrates that markets — and how well they work for consumers — always depend on state regulation. For this reason, California must use the crisis to deeply reform its utility regulations.

A critical regulatory choice for any market is the allowed forms of ownership for organizations that sell goods in the market. California’s courts, lawmakers and regulators are confronting this very issue as PG&E seeks to emerge from a bankruptcy that stems from its responsibility for recent wildfire catastrophes. The specific questions are: Who will own PG&E? How much control will regulators give them? And how much profit can owners extract from the utility?

Any changes to PG&E’s ownership will have big consequences for consumers and communities as California tries to transition to a carbon-neutral power grid. So, policymakers should take into consideration the latest social science on how the form of ownership will affect both consumers and society.

The first big lesson from recent research is about who should not be allowed to own PG&E – namely Wall Street. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other policy players should take every step necessary to block a consortium of 24 private equity and hedge funds that are currently attempting a hostile takeover of PG&E. Why?
Opinion

The interests and track record of the investors trying to take over PG&E speak for themselves. These types of funds explicitly seek to extract windfall profits from the companies they acquire, with little concern for the long-term economic viability or social importance of the company. It is telling that PG&E’s largest current group of shareholders are Abrams Capital, Knighthead Capital and Redwood Capital — a rival alliance of hedge funds that is trying to maintain control after running PG&E into the ground just 17 years since the company’s last bankruptcy.

Private equity and hedge fund ownership is especially pernicious in sectors with large public subsidies and little competition. For example, my colleagues and I show in a forthcoming article for the Review of Financial Studies that investor ownership has had dire consequences in the for-profit college sector. When federally subsidized for-profit colleges are owned by outside investors, we find that they are more likely to increase student loan debt, cut faculty-student ratios and engage in fraudulent recruitment.

Read more here: https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/california-forum/article236541993.html#storylink=cpy

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

Will overhauling Scott Dam save native fish?

Alastair Bland, THE BOHEMIAN

Salmon three feet long seem to clog the water as the chrome-colored fish, fresh from the ocean, begin their journey upriver toward the high-elevation gravel riffles where they were born. Here, in the remotest tendrils of the watershed, they will lay and fertilize the eggs that ensure the next generation of salmon.

At least that’s how it once was early each autumn on the Eel River. But nature’s security system for fish survival is only as good as the health of a river. In the case of the Eel, a local power company built a dam on the Eel’s main fork in 1920. As a result, Chinook salmon lost access to about 100 miles of spawning habitat.

Steelhead, which swam farther upstream into smaller tributaries, suffered even greater impacts. Intensive in-river commercial fishing, water diversions, logging and other land degradation took their toll, too. Today, annual salmon runs in Eel River that once may have totaled a million or so adults consist of a few thousand. Lamprey eels, too, have dwindled.

Now, there is serious talk of removing Scott Dam, owned by PG&E since 1930.

For fishery proponents, such a river makeover is the optimal way to revive the Eel’s salmon runs.

“We want to see volitional passage, both ways,” says Curtis Knight, executive director of the conservation group California Trout.

Volitional, in this context, means the salmon are able to make their historic migration on their own—downstream as newly born juveniles and, later, upstream as sexually mature adults—all without the assistance of human hands.

“We think dam removal is one possibility here,” Knight says.

California Trout is one of several local groups and agencies now formally considering taking over the operation of Scott Dam from PG&E. As a hydroelectric facility, Scott Dam is not very productive, and with PG&E’s operating license scheduled to expire in 2022, the utility giant recently stepped away from the project. PG&E even briefly put the Potter Valley Project up for auction, though the offer attracted no takers.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/saving-salmon/Content?oid=9360901

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , ,

Op-Ed: How to protect California ratepayers, expand clean local energy and avoid bailing out PG&E

Craig Lewis, UTILITY DIVE

Craig Lewis is the executive director of Clean Coalition, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to accelerate the transition to renewable energy and a modern grid through technical, policy, and project development expertise.

Since 2017, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), California’s largest utility, has racked up more than $30 billion in liabilities for wildfire-related damages caused by its equipment. In January 2019, PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with the goal of shedding these liabilities.

This grave situation also represents a golden opportunity for the Golden State.

Experts have been weighing in on what should become of PG&E. Ideas include making PG&E a public authority controlled by the state, breaking it up into municipal utilities, and making it a fully deregulated utility.

But there’s a better solution, one that should be applied to all the state’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs): require the utilities to divest their transmission assets. This solution avoids another utility bailout, protects utility customers from rate increases and wildfire risks, and fixes a major obstacle to California’s zero-emission, clean energy future.

A broken business model

The current utility business model is fundamentally broken and needs to change. IOUs now earn a guaranteed rate of return on infrastructure investments, which incentivizes them to build more transmission infrastructure and has led to out-of-control transmission costs around the country.

Because transmission costs are the fastest-growing part of electricity bills, it could soon cost more to deliver energy than to generate it. And it’s worse than it looks.

The capital costs of transmission infrastructure, high as they are, represent a fraction of total transmission costs. Operations and maintenance (O&M) and returns on investments drive up transmission costs significantly over the life of these assets, with those excessive costs borne by ratepayers.

Read more at https://www.utilitydive.com/news/how-to-protect-california-ratepayers-expand-clean-local-energy-and-avoid-b/554564/

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , ,

Greater wildfire risks prompt growth of electrical ‘microgrids’ to rely less on PG&E

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

In his standard blue jeans and unbuttoned flannel shirt, David Liebman could blend in with many of the young students walking to and from classes at Santa Rosa Junior College.

But Liebman, manager of energy and sustainability for the college district, has something bigger on his mind than class assignments and midterm projects.

Liebman, 27, is heading a $5 million electrical infrastructure project that addresses climate change and fundamentally will transform the way energy is distributed and used on campus.

Using the new solar arrays at the Santa Rosa campus, Liebman is coordinating the development of an electrical microgrid that could operate independently of PG&E during nearby wildfires, or when the escalating threats of fires in the age of climate change prompt the utility to temporarily turn off power.

“Unless we change the infrastructure that runs our society, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble because we won’t be able to adapt to the significant changes that are happening to both the environment and technology in general,” Liebman said.

Fueled by solar energy and equipped with battery storage and a complex control system, the SRJC project is a small part of a much larger movement environmental experts say could fundamentally flip the paradigm on energy usage here and across the country. Before, massive power plants were turned on to meet demand for electricity; now, microgrids could help do that with available renewable energy such as solar, wind and geothermal.

In Sonoma County, microgrid systems would allow key institutions such as hospitals, municipal utilities, a college campus and certain government agencies to continue to operate in the event of a natural disaster that interrupts PG&E’s electrical transmission and distribution.

Local interest in microgrids has heightened with the prospect of Pacific Gas & Electric shutting off power during times of high fire risk.

To provide a model for developing the mini-power networks, a microgrid laboratory has risen just west of the town of Sonoma, at the Stone Edge Farm Estate Vineyards & Winery. The multimillion-dollar microgrid — a testing ground for the latest renewable energy and storage and control technology — encircles 16 acres of vineyards, olive trees and fields of heirloom vegetables and fruit.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10027255-181/greater-wildfire-risks-prompt-growth

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Sonoma County considering taking over Eel River water-power project

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors agreed Tuesday to study the possibility of applying for a license to operate a remote Mendocino County hydropower project, marking the first move to maintain a long-standing water transfer deemed critical to residents and ranchers in both counties.

A coalition of five Mendocino County agencies and California Trout, a 50-year-old environmental nonprofit, are collaborating with Sonoma County’s water agency in the consideration of taking over the federal license for the Potter Valley Project, which delivers 20 billion gallons of water a year from the Eel River into the Russian River basin.

Each of the three partners is putting $100,000 into the study, an amount dwarfed by the potential cost of establishing free passage for the Eel River’s protected salmon and steelhead — likely a requisite step to extend the project’s life.

PG&E, the state’s largest utility now in bankruptcy, surrendered the project in January, upending the license renewal process, and no entity has responded to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) call for a new operator.

The utility, which had owned the project since 1930, said it was no longer economical to operate a plant that generated less than 1 percent of its power.

But the water flowing through the powerhouse is virtually invaluable to the towns and ranches along the upper Russian River from Potter Valley to Healdsburg and is a critical source for Sonoma Water, which delivers water to 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county customers.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9598819-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-eye-future

Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, Local OrganizationsTags , ,

Judge: PG&E put profits over wildfire safety

A U.S. judge berated Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. on Wednesday, accusing the nation’s largest utility of enriching shareholders instead of clearing trees that can fall on its power lines and start fires and making “excuses” to avoid turning off electricity when fire risk is high.

Judge William Alsup in San Francisco did not immediately order PG&E to take any of the dramatic measures he has proposed to try to stop more wildfires.

But he warned that he was not ruling out at least some new requirements on the company if it did not come up with a plan to “solve” the problem of catastrophic wildfires in California.

“To my mind, there’s a very clear-cut pattern here: that PG&E is starting these fires,” Alsup said. “What do we do? Does the judge just turn a blind eye and say, ‘PG&E continue your business as usual. Kill more people by starting more fires.'”

Alsup is overseeing a criminal conviction against PG&E on pipeline safety charges stemming from a 2010 gas line explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

He proposed earlier this month as part of PG&E’s probation that it remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines in high-wind conditions and shut off power when fire is a risk regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit.

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

PG&E announces withdrawal from Potter Valley Project relicensing and auction process

CALIFORNIA TROUT

PG&E announced last week that it was withdrawing from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing process as well as the effort to sell the Potter Valley Project.  California Trout has been engaged in both proceedings and are hopeful this development will create a favorable environment to continue working towards a two-basin solution. 

From Pacific Gas and Electric:

Today PG&E submitted a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission providing our “Notice of Withdrawal of Notice Of Intent to File License Application and Pre-Application Document” for the Potter Valley Project.  As a result, PG&E will expeditiously cease all activities related to the relicensing of the Project.  Our decision to cease Project relicensing will also result in the stoppage of our efforts to sell the Project via the Request for Offers (RFO) process.

Although the timing is unclear at this point, we anticipate that PG&E’s action will result in FERC initiating its Orphan Project process.  In accordance with the Orphan process, FERC will provide interested parties the opportunity to submit an application for a new Project license.  We believe this path will allow interested parties more time to prepare for the acquisition of the Project and the ability to submit a License Application on their own terms rather than assuming PG&E’s current application.  If the Orphan process does not result in the issuance of a new Project License, it is expected FERC will order PG&E to prepare and submit a Surrender Application and Decommissioning Plan.

Source: Email from California Trout, read more about the Potter Valley Project at: https://caltrout.org/regions/north-coast-region/keystone-initiative-eel-river-recovery/potter-valley-project-and-ferc-relicensing/

Posted on Categories Local OrganizationsTags ,

PG&E cutting trees near power lines in high fire-risk areas

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PG&E is trimming and removing trees near a high-voltage transmission line along River Road west of Highway 101, an area the utility says has been plagued by outages because of falling trees.

The work, conducted by a PG&E contractor, will cover a 40-foot swath — 20 feet to each side of a 60,000-volt transmission line that runs along the road from PG&E’s Fulton substation to Forestville, said Deanna Contreras, a spokeswoman for the utility.

It comes as the utility, which serves 5.4 million electric customers from Bakersfield to Eureka, is engaged in an accelerated and expanded campaign to clear trees and brush away from overhead power lines.

Standards adopted by the state Public Utilities Commission in the wake of last year’s wildfires require power companies to maintain a minimum 4-foot vegetation clearance around their lines year-round in extreme fire-threat areas, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.

These areas, officially designated as Tier 3, cover a broad zone largely in the Mayacamas Mountains from Cloverdale to Sonoma, including the Mark West Creek area, Sugarloaf Ridge and Trione-Annadel state parks, as well as the west county wooded areas stretching nearly to the coast.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8866874-181/pge-cutting-trees-near-power

Posted on Categories Climate Change & EnergyTags , ,

Sonoma power broker Darius Anderson signs on as PG&E lobbyist

Tom Gogola, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

As he sets out to lead the way in rebuilding the North Bay after the October wildfires, Sonoma County developer, newspaper owner and Democratic Party power broker Darius Anderson’s Platinum Advisors is also lobbying on behalf of PG&E’s post-fire interests in Sacramento.

According to the California Secretary of State (see graphic above), Platinum Advisors was hired by the utility on March 28, just as a Senate bill that’s squarely targeted at PG&E’s fire liability was scheduled to make its way through the committee process in the Senate.

Sponsored by a quartet of state senators, including North Bay pols Bill Dodd and Mike McGuire, SB 819 sets out to limit the extent to which electric utilities can pass off fees and fines to ratepayers.

According to the Legislative Counsel’s Digest, SB 819 enhances the state’s current ability to regulate rate hikes; California law already gives the state Public Utilities Commission leverage to “fix the rates and charges for every public utility and requires that those rates and charges be just and reasonable.”

The current regulations prohibit gas corporations from “recovering any fine or penalty in any rate approved by the commission,” and SB 819 extends that prohibition to gas and electric corporations such as PG&E, which is based in San Francisco, provides power to some 16 million California residents and is the dominant investor-owned utility in the state.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/TheFishingReport/archives/2018/04/17/sonoma-power-broker-darius-anderson-signs-on-as-pgande-lobbyist

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , ,

PG&E trims or removes 30,000 fire-damaged trees in Northern and Central California

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has trimmed or cut down more than 30,000 damaged trees in 13 Northern and Central California counties, nearly completing a post-fire campaign to remove scorched trees that posed a threat to the utility’s power lines.
The effort is 99 percent complete in Sonoma and Napa counties, where contract tree-cutting crews dealt with about 10,500 and 13,400 trees, respectively, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.
The only work remaining in Sonoma County, where the October wildfires covered 137 square miles, is related to trees near temporary overhead power lines being erected in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park and Hidden Valley neighborhoods, she said.
In Mendocino County, about 4,400 trees were trimmed or felled, with about 130 in Lake County.
Overall, the work is about 96 percent complete, Contreras said, but affected landowners may still ask PG&E to cut down and remove burned wood from their property at no cost.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/local/7909403-181/pge-trims-or-removes-30000