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SF lawmakers want to block PG&E bailout, seize power infrastructure

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Aaron Peskin demands state senate repeal 2017 bill favoring bankrupt utility

Photo by Alexander Demyanenko/Shutterstock

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted in favor of a resolution demanding that the state repeal laws favorable to Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and prevent customers from having to pay for the bankrupt utility’s wildfire costs.

The bid, led by Supervisor Aaron Peskin and cosponsors Supervisors Hillary Ronen, Vallie Brown, and Sandra Lee Fewer, is primarily a political move stating the city’s opposition to state policies.

During a speech Tuesday introducing the measure, Peskin floated another, more ambitious idea that the city should “either through negotiation or imminent domain to take control of our local distribution system.”

City Hall is currently considering separate measures that could make SF “energy independent from PG&E.”

The resolution reads, in part:

The increasing danger posed by wildfires throughout California requires comprehensive changes, including improvements to vegetation and forest management practices, utility infrastructure and operations, emergency response systems, and disaster planning. [...]

In 2018, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) and other utilities made legislative proposals to amend the strict liability and inverse condemnation provisions of state law to shift responsibility for wildfire damages away from utilities and on to public entities, homeowners, and utility ratepayers, at great detriment to the general public.

Peskin’s measure refers to Senate Bill 901, which passed on a 29-to-4 state senate vote in August 2018 and set new rules for determining how the California Public Utilities Commission allows PG&E to recoup wildfire costs.

The final version of the bill did not actually include the previously proposed changes to inverse condemnation laws that might have shielded PG&E from much of its wildfire liability, although the utility did lobby for such measures.

Tuesday’s vote demands that the Senate repeal laws that make it easier to force utility users to pay for fire costs, stating that “legislators and regulators should not charge ratepayers the costs of wildfire damage caused by PG&E.”

“PG&E has been holding the city hostage,” alleged Peskin.

His call for independence from the utility company comes one day after PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection and former board member turned State Sen. Scott Wiener endorsed the idea of public utilities.

Peskin’s measure passed unanimously without debate.