Power and shared wealth - Page 2

PG&E's far-reaching influence even links it to San Bruno explosion investigators

Last year's deadly PG&E pipeline explosion is still under investigation.

Panelist Patrick Lavin serves as an executive council member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents PG&E employees. He's also on the board of directors of the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy (CFEE), a nonprofit that counts PG&E among its membership. CFEE sponsored a two-week trip to Spain last November for government officials, energy industry representatives, and others to study "renewable energy, infrastructure, public private partnerships, desalination, and rail," according to its website, picking up the $8,880 tab for Peevey to join the trip. The nonprofit received donations from PG&E totaling $45,000 in 2009, $45,000 in 2008, and $40,000 in 2006 — the three most recent years available.

Schori, meanwhile, has clearly held roles in the past that have placed her in an adversarial relationship with the utility considering that SMUD — a public power utility — has engaged in territorial battles against PG&E. Yet Schori also serves on the board of the Climate Action Reserve, a nonprofit that also counts former PG&E vice president of operations Nancy McFadden — the architect behind PG&E's ill-fated ballot initiative Proposition 16 — on its board of directors.

Climate Action Reserve received $45,000 from PG&E in 2009, according to a CPUC filing. Schori also previously served on the board of directors of a nonprofit called the Alliance to Save Energy, which was co-chaired by former PG&E CEO Peter Darbee, who was expected to step down April 30 with a retirement package totaling nearly $35 million. The Alliance to Save Energy received $45,000, $35,000, and $35,000 in PG&E donations in 2009, 2008, and 2006, respectively. Schori did not respond to a request for comment.

The chair of the San Bruno Independent Review Panel is Larry Vanderhoef, former chancellor of UC Davis and a highly respected academic. As an ex-officio trustee of the UC Davis Foundation, Vanderhoef is engaged in soliciting private-sector contributions for the university. UC Davis has received an average of around $200,000 in philanthropic contributions from PG&E each year since 2005. In an e-mail to the Guardian, spokesperson Claudia Morain noted that Vanderhoef "has never been involved in PG&E solicitations."

PG&E's contributions to the two nonprofits and the university represent very small portions of the total budgets of these three entities, particularly in the case of UC Davis. At the same time, they are relatively large sums compared to the contributions the company generally makes. The city of Berkeley, for example, received just $2,500 from PG&E in 2009. Most organizations receive less than $10,000, but certain groups are given much more. The UC Regents, for example, received a $406,400 donation from PG&E in 2009.

"The panel members are all eminently qualified to perform the important job that has been entrusted to them." CPUC spokesperson Terrie Prosper told us. "It is not surprising, or inappropriate, that the panel members also are involved in philanthropic activities of various kinds in California. Nor is it surprising that PG&E, California's largest public utility company, in its own donations to various public and nonprofit institutions and its other philanthropic activities, supports some of these same worthy causes. These philanthropic activities in no way impair the independence, good judgment, or valued public service the members of the Independent Review Panel are giving to California."