Guardian editorial: PG&E's system fails again!


EDITORIAL There's no question that officials from Santa Clara — thrilled to have finalized financing for a new 49ers stadium — were taking full political advantage of the Dec. 19 blackouts at Candlestick Park. There's no question that the event Mayor Ed Lee called a "national embarrassment" helped guarantee that the team will leave San Francisco after one more season.

But this is about more than football — and the mayor and the supervisors ought to be using this latest PG&E screw-up to take a serious look at the company's reliability and its impact on the city.

This is hardly the first embarrassing PG&E blackout in San Francisco. For the past few years, the private utility's aging infrastructure has been failing, leaving businesses and residents in the dark. And while PG&E officials are trying to blame the city for the latest snafu, everyone admits that the problem started when a PG&E power line snapped.

Snapping power lines are a dangerous prospect — in this case, nobody was hurt and the arcing electricity didn't start any fires. But that was largely a matter of luck — the jolt from the broken line lit up TV screens all over the country and if it had happened close to some flammable object (or, worse, some live person), the damage could have been serious.

As it was, millions of people watched San Francisco's football stadium go dark — twice. The electricians at Candlestick patched things together and the game went on, but the message was clear: PG&E can't be trusted to keep its equipment in safe, operating condition.

The city of San Bruno is still trying to recover from the natural gas explosion that killed eight people and leveled a neighborhood. And while local and state officials are giving increased scrutiny to PG&E's underground gas pipes, the electricity system isn't in much better shape.

Blackouts are more than an embarrassment — they cost the city and its businesses money. And, as the almost certain loss of the 49ers shows, unreliable infrastructure doesn't help the local business climate. As Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews told the Bay Citizen: "The reason they moved to Santa Clara is the reliability of our services. We have reliability in our electricity system that is unparalleled."

One reason: Santa Clara has its own municipal power system with a much better service and reliability record than PG&E.  Rates are lower, blackouts are unheard of and the equipment is well maintained. Compare that to PG&E, where company executives diverted gas line maintenance money to pay themselves bonuses, and you see why San Francisco, which relies on the private monopoly, has a problem.

The supervisors ought to take this opportunity to hold hearings on the reliability of PG&E's electric and gas system in the city — looking not just at the Candlestick problem but at the maintenance records, the age of crucial equipment, the company's replacement plans, the expensive loss of the city's Hetch Hetchy power being wheeled on PG&E lines, and the economic impact of a shoddy electrical system.  That should be part of Mayor Lee's investigation, too.

At some point, San Francisco residents are going to have to pay to rebuild this system. They can pay through higher PG&E rates when the utility finally gets around to it — or they can begin the process of creating a municipal utility, which can do the job right, bring down rates, improve the business climate that the mayor so loves to discuss, and move  the city  into compliance with the federal Raker Act mandating public power for San Francisco.




No one cares. If the 49ers want to become the "Santa Clara 49ers" vs. the "San Francisco 49ers" what do I care? Does Santa Clara think it's going to become a world-class city like SF because it has an NFL team which bears its name?

Yes - because EVERYONE wants to go to Green Bay, Michigan because they have an NFL team. That's what makes a city - an NFL team. If you have one then everyone wants to become you.

Too bad no one told the Detroit Lions this.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 26, 2011 @ 9:11 pm

is still in Wisconsin.

Posted by Chromefields on Dec. 27, 2011 @ 7:54 am

San Francisco will still be San Francisco with or without a ball team. And Santa Clara or wherever they're going will still be some little suburb on the Peninsula somewhere, tucked between other suburbs just like it.

I know it's not PC to say this, given the fervor of how everybody dresses up and honks horns whenever they win some ball game, but I'm totally fine with them leaving. No, I'm more than fine with them leaving. Less traffic from their games now.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 27, 2011 @ 8:52 am

There were not one, but TWO blackouts in the Haight today. Way to go PG&E.

Posted by 99 Percenter on Dec. 28, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

And that's all that matters to me.

Posted by 1 Percenter on Dec. 28, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

all utilities from time to time. The idea that they would never happen if a bunch of city bureaucrats were running the power system is laughable.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 28, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

And yes, if we had a municipal utility accountable to the public, blackouts wouldn't happen as much.

Come to think of it, I don't think most private companies are as bad as PG&E either.

I've had the benefit of experience having lived in nearly a dozen cities over my lifetime, and NO other place is nearly as bad as San Francisco in this regard. When I first moved here, I was thinking... wtf, is this the third world or something, because whenever it rains there's a blackout! I can count the number of blackouts I've experienced in my lifetime outside of San Francisco on one hand. I experienced as many blackouts in this city literally in the first couple of years as I'd ever experienced in my LIFE!

And explosions? There have been several just in the time that I've lived here, including that lethal destruction of an entire neighborhood. But that wasn't the only one. Just a couple years before that, another explosion sent a manhole cover flying through the air downtown. And IIRC there was a third one too in recent years. You PG&E apologists will be quick to say how this could happen anywhere. Yes. It *could*. But you know how many times I've heard about an explosion (that wasn't the fault of a negligent homeowner) before I moved here?


Those of you who've lived here most of your life don't realize just how awful PG&E is.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 28, 2011 @ 9:49 pm

Tim and Bruce. I've had power delivered by ConEd, Duke, Southern and they were all much of a muchness. Power is a commodity and utilities are like oil companies - it ultimately doesn't matter if you buy Shell or Exxon gas.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2011 @ 12:11 am

And when PG&E injures you or kills a loved one, all of you people who rush to defend how great they are will be the FIRST in line to hire an anti-PG&E attorney to sue their pants off. You know you will, because a "progressive" is just another name for a moderate who's been radicalized by corporate crime.

Posted by Greg on Dec. 28, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

Mayor Lee was reportedly 'shocked' by two brief power outages at Candlestick Park last Monday night. He described them as a "national embarrassment", called for an investigation, and promised he would "make sure that... this doesn't happen again."

I have lived on Treasure Island since 1999. Recently, we had 6 unplanned power outages in 30 days. One lasted 6 hours, another 9 hours, and two outages on Thanksgiving totaled 10 hours. 2,500 people live here: 1/3 are low income, many are disabled.

The Treasure Island Development Agency has spent over $100M during the past 12 years, while their agents collected at least $150M in rents. From 2000 through 2005, I recorded 60 utility outages, but I stopped counting-- and complaining-- after TIDA kept giving me the "runaround".

Incidentally, TIDA plans to wait until construction of 6,000 luxury condos before upgrading the power grid. Meanwhile, 6 outages in 30 days is proof that our dilapidated grid is not being maintained to even a minimal safe standard.

If only the 49'ers played on T.I., then perhaps Mayor Lee would make sure to keep the power on here!

Posted by Guest Pariah on Dec. 29, 2011 @ 11:37 am

It's ridiculous to suggest they failed because of a one-time incident.

This witch-hunt is opportunistic and self-defeating.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 29, 2011 @ 12:04 pm

it's ridiculous to suggest that PG&E failed because of the 49ers outage which was a one-time incident.

Your anti-PG&E witch-hunt is opportunistic and self-defeating.

Posted by TruthHammer on Jan. 02, 2012 @ 1:38 am

justifed by the facts. And I'd certainly caution against extrapolating from a single one-off incident to suggest any pattern of unreliability. Much better to show service level stats against other major ute's than to speculate widlly based on anecdotes.

Odd that SFBG focuses on a utility, which are usually regarded as fairly innocuous corporate entities, rather than Goldman Sachs, Enron, WalMart, BP and the other "usual suspects".

Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 02, 2012 @ 5:44 am

the idea that there is some false 'witch hunt' against a rapacious multi-billion dollar corporation which has spent over a hundred million dollars on ballot campaigns and corrupt manipulations of local governments in an effort to kill nearly all efforts to compete with it, has been and continues to be responsible for purposely poisoning thousands of residents in Hinkley California with hexavalent chromium, forced a nuclear power plant down California's throat against massive public opposition, and has been so criminally negligent in its maintenance that its workers and customers are regularly killed and maimed by electrical and natural gas accidents, is by far one of the most amusing bits of idiocy that I have ever seen in print

Posted by anonymous on Jan. 02, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

I guess that means that PG&E have really improved. Interesting . .

Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 02, 2012 @ 11:15 pm

as you know full well you lying little piece of shit (because I already showed you the links proving it on another thread about PG&E) all of the criticisms I just laid out are current, and not 'from decades ago'

and this includes the poisoning of Hinkley, which is still ongoing, and for which PG&E was cited in both 2010 and 2011 for failing to fulfill its responsibility to contain the toxic chromium releases - people are being poisoned by PG&E's negligence, right now

Posted by anonymous on Jan. 02, 2012 @ 11:50 pm

Ditto the nuclear plant.

Old news, and boring.

Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 03, 2012 @ 2:28 am

All please see the post recopied below from another SF Guardian thread on PG&E in which I specifically made clear to Anonymous that PG&E's Hinkley violations continue into the present day (after Anonymous made a similar comment to the one above).

Anonymous certainly knew of and read this post before he posted the reply above to 'anonymous' because he voraciously reads every blog that he comments on.

Therefore it is clear that Anonymous is purposely lying to deceive SF Guardian readers. (I'll leave it up to you all to decide why Anonymous is so strangely writing things that he knows full well are completely false.)

Here is my original post complete with a link to the State's report on PG&E's Hinkley violations:

New PG&E Chromium Plume Violations In Hinkley, CA In 2010 & 2011

The chromium pollution in Hinkley which PG&E is responsible for, is still escaping and PG&E is still in violation of court orders for its cleanup and abatement.

To verify this see the new California EPA report on the contamination at:

Here is the intro text to that report:

"PG&E’s Compressor Station is located approximately two miles southeast of the town of Hinkley and a dozen miles west of Barstow in the Mojave Desert of San Bernardino County. Between 1952 and 1966, PG&E used hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, to fight corrosion in cooling tower water. The wastewater from the cooling towers was discharged to unlined ponds at the site. Some of the wastewater percolated to the groundwater, resulting in hexavalent chromium pollution. The chromium affects an area of groundwater approximately two miles long and nearly a mile wide.

Recent chromium plume migration to the northeast of the Desert View Dairy has been detected. This plume migration violates a Cleanup and Abatement Order requirement to maintain control of the plume. At the July 14, 2010 Board meeting, the Water Board adopted an amendment to the Desert View Dairy land treatment unit permit to allow additional groundwater extraction on two properties adjacent to the Desert View Dairy to the north and east to address the expanded plume in that area.

The Third Quarter 2011 Monitoring Report shows that chromium has been detected in groundwater in the north, out to at least Sonoma Street. In addition, new monitoring well data also shows the chromium plume being undefined to the east, west, and south of the Compressor Station. PG&E has been directed to continue expanding the monitoring well network to determine the extent of the chromium plume above maximum background levels of 3.1 ppb hexavalent chromium and 3.2 ppb total chromium.

PG&E is under orders from the Lahontan Water Board to stop plume expansion and clean up the chromium plume."

Posted by Eric Brooks on Jan. 03, 2012 @ 9:16 pm

Likewise the PG&E Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is by no means a dated issue at all, since PG&E is currently engaged in clandestinely applying for a permit to outrageously extend the life of that nuclear plant for another 20 years.

To see the proof of this, go to:

So on all counts, small 'a' 'anonymous' is perfectly correct, and all of the criticisms raised against PG&E are current and valid. Especially in regard to PG&E's vile ballot measure campaigns (as well as illegal ad campaigns to attack municipal clean energy projects which challenge PG&E). Almost all of these massively funded PG&E attacks happened in the past decade; most notably with a whopping $60 million of PG&E's $100 million ballot/ad onslaught spent just from 2008-2010 alone!

Posted by Eric Brooks on Jan. 03, 2012 @ 9:32 pm
Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 04, 2012 @ 12:29 am

no matter how idiotic it makes him look

Anonymous will simply keep repeating the same incredibly stupid line over and over again

because he inanely believes like some held back grade school child, that it means he wins the debate

moron of the millennium

Posted by anonymous on Jan. 04, 2012 @ 3:58 am

complain about plants that were conceived in the 1960's.

Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 04, 2012 @ 5:04 am

why don't you save yourself some typing time you ignoramus and simply copy and paste what you wrote the first time

your turn pea brain

Posted by anonymous on Jan. 04, 2012 @ 5:25 am

when you say "He" which you, are you talking about?

you are the most ridiculous joke excuse for a human being who ever walked the face of the earth

Posted by anonymous on Jan. 04, 2012 @ 4:04 am

You, me or him?

Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 04, 2012 @ 5:05 am

who is not a disturbed idiot who should be institutionalized

your turn last word nutball

Posted by anonymous on Jan. 04, 2012 @ 5:15 am
Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 04, 2012 @ 6:32 am

abuse always follows asshole trolls who seek to purposely ruin the internet experience for everyone else by being idiotic pricks who only disagree with other posts to start juvenile fights with people

there is noting more cheap and fundamentally reprehensible than people like you

but at least the intelligent trolls come up with arguments that are not just a continuous repetition of the stupidest bullshit imaginable

the latter is your forte

and the bullshit in your case gets repeated simply because once you can't think of a response after you've been proven completely wrong (which in your case happens all too quickly because you are such a profoundly stupid thick-headed moron) you then actually inanely believe that you can win by just repeating your utterly disproved point and thereby get the last word in the thread

i have to reiterate that this makes you easily the most stupid person who ever lived and breathed - it is utterly amazing what a dumb fucking post you are to believe that a debate is like a tennis match in which if you simply hit the ball last, you win (which doesn't even happen in tennis)

god, what a complete melt down of a human being you are

your turn idiot last word freak

(as soon as you get done looking up the words "latter" and "forte" of course...)

thank god for online dictionaries eh...?

Posted by anonymous on Jan. 04, 2012 @ 11:33 am
Posted by matlock on Jan. 03, 2012 @ 6:08 am

the stadium outage was just the most publicly noticeable of an endless series of power outages which happen on a regular basis because PG&E provides such crappy service

Posted by anonymous on Jan. 02, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

You're grasping at straws.

Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 02, 2012 @ 11:15 pm

PG&E has an excessive rate of power outages compared to other providers as is clearly shown in the Chronicle article that was already posted in this same thread yesterday

here it is again

so it is obviously not remotely true that the stadium outage was an isolated incident

do you honestly believe that feebly denying something that readers have already seen proved right in front of their face in this very same comment thread, is going to help you win at your incredibly juvenile trolling attempts?

what a fucking idiot

Posted by anonymous on Jan. 03, 2012 @ 12:02 am

previously having a power cut, so an observation that that incident was isolated appears supported by the facts.

Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 03, 2012 @ 2:29 am this conversation just about power cuts at the stadium, when PG&E constantly has power outages all over the place, and, as cited above, has such a bad record that it blows away all of the other utilities in the country for how bad it is?

Posted by Eric Brooks on Jan. 03, 2012 @ 9:37 pm

"Much better to show service level stats against other major ute's than to speculate widlly based on anecdotes."

Ok, here ya go:

Oh Noes! Da Chronicle is in on the Progressive Consipracy toooo!!!

Or maybe.... maybe, PG&E really is one of the worst utilities in America? Hmmm.... could it be?

BTW... couldn't find a similar graph of accidents and explosions. I'm guessing it probably doesn't exist, because most utilities have had ZERO explosions in recent years, let alone "accidents" that wind up murdering their customers. But never mind that. I'm sure it's all just a progressive conspiracy.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 02, 2012 @ 12:30 pm

stock price. So why not arbitrage your special knowledge by shorting PG&E stock against, say, ConEd or Duke?

Why pontificate ideologically when you can profit from your "special" knowledge?

Posted by Anonymous on Jan. 02, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

First you say it's a one-time thing... it's a conspiracy... they're really all the same... show me the numbers. Then when I actually produce the numbers (from a paper that usually shills for PG&E no less!), you don't skip a beat and it's suddenly "so what?" To channel a certain troll... it's always Year Zero with you PG&E apologists.

But whatever. I'm actually glad that you challenged the community to produce some data. Because now that the data has been produced, it stands on its own and speaks -no, screams is more like it -more loudly than any subsequent spin.

I do, however, want to respond to this other point, about the stock price. The point is, of course, completely false. I think you know as well as I do, that the stock market doesn't give a rat's ass what kind of service PG&E provides, or how many people it kills for that matter. The stock market cares about one thing and one thing only -profit. And PG&E can in fact continue to make money while killing people and providing lousy service. Maybe it even makes more money if it jacks up people's rates and skimps on customer service. And murder? Through small investments in the form of campaign contributions, it can avoid consequences even for murder by cultivating those co-dependent relationships with powerful politicians. And if PG&E manages to make money while killing people and providing lousy service, then the stock price goes up. I don't think I need to explain this to such a committed capitalist as you.

But that begs the question then... if PG&E's stock does well in spite of clearly lousy service and a record of fatal "accidents," then isn't there something wrong with the model of providing electricity through private utilities unaccountable to anyone but their stockholders? I mean, what's the goal here? If the goal is to concentrate wealth into the hands of a few 1%-ers, then it's a great model. But if the goal is to provide clean inexpensive power safely and efficiently, an unbiased look at the data clearly shows that this model isn't working.

And that leads me to my final question then. Why continue being an apologist for PG&E? I'm a progressive, but I'm not an ideologue. If you can show me data that shows the capitalist market system does a better job for people, I'll change my mind. In fact, I already have. I used to be a lot more of a capitalist until I saw data that it doesn't always work best. Sometimes it does (you'll never hear me advocating for nationalizing the restaurant industry for example). But often it doesn't.

If you don't have the capacity to look at new data and change your mind when the facts warrant it, that tells me one of several things:
Either you're a committed ideologue rather than a rational individual
You're a paid shill
Perhaps your baseline goals are different (ie., maybe you place a higher priority on an entity's ability to generate money for it's executives and investors, than to provide a good service for the people.)

Posted by Greg on Jan. 02, 2012 @ 7:00 pm