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Coming into my freshman year of college, I made sure to be overprepared. I packed a lifetime supply of ramen noodles, a first aid kit, emergency bottled water, and (just in case) mace. What I wasn’t prepared for -- actually, what no one was prepared for -- was the loss of an entire week of school due to PG&E power shutoffs. At first it was kind of funny, especially the first night classes were cancelled. I remember the echoes of “GO BEARS!” and laughter in the courtyard of Unit 2, the whooping and hollering lasting late into the night. However, what was once a happy-go-lucky extended weekend has now turned into an episode of ridiculous, outrageous deprivation of power for millions of Californians. In this article, I will list out the mismanagement and, let’s be honest, corporate greed that has lead to these power outages.

PG&E is a monopoly, which means they have total control of the commodity that they provide. This also means that they are extremely powerful and difficult to regulate. As wildfires increased throughout California in 2018, so did PG&E’s lobbying expenses, topping out at $11 million. This means that PG&E, instead of being held accountable for their mismanagement, protects itself from regulation by throwing money at legislators. Their lobbying spending was also in efforts to prevent filing for bankruptcy, which they did anyway in early February

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However, PG&E’s motivation behind filing bankruptcy is cause for speculation. In fact, many legal experts suggest that PG&E’s bankruptcy filing was just a strategy to avoid paying wildfire victims in full by “lumping them in” with unsecured creditors and bondholders who are owed $18 billion. So, not only is PG&E largely responsible for the raging wildfires across California -- they are actively avoiding accountability. 

The truth is, PG&E is a for-profit corporation that is responsible for public institutions, public schools, and public hospitals. PG&E has prioritized their profits over the public good, and now they could owe billions of dollars in liabilities for past wildfires. Gov. Gavin Newsom has now declared a state of emergency amidst the Kinkade fires, calling on Warren Buffet’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, to take PG&E over. Another idea, supported by Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose, calls for the transition in PG&E’s ownership from investors to customers. This would allow for the public to determine their needs, and for those needs to be met without conflict of interest or, what I like to call, ~sketchy stuff.~

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To me, this idea makes sense. Power is used by the public, and it should be directed by and for the public -- not for investors or shareholders. Yes, a non-profit utility would cost a lot more money; however, I believe it would be worth it. We have already lost billions of dollars in damages to wildfires, not to mention an increasing number of human lives (10 in PG&E’s San Bruno explosion, 86 in the Camp Fire, the list goes on). People are losing their homes and everything they own. People are dying.

Look: the way I see it, Silicon Valley is, as Mr. Liccardo states, “the greatest job engine in the history of America.” If we don’t have power for extended periods of time, if we can’t leave our houses because the AQI is 200, if our friends, families, and lives are under threat of wildfires caused by the mismanagement of PG&E, ~THAT~ is going to cost more in the long run, than a transition of public ownership. If we can’t have basic utilities -- if we can’t breathe -- how are we supposed to move forward? 

Emma Gerson

UC Berkeley '23

Emma Gerson is a musician and political advocate. She will be competing for the title of Miss California in 2021.
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