The PG&E Blunders Just Keep Coming

More Smart Meter embarrassments for PG&E piled up this week and none of it was pretty.

The next time you see an image of a medieval scene where the patient is being slowly bled to cure him of his illness, you know how PG&E CEO Pete Darbee must feel these days as the bad press reports keep piling up from one stumble after another.  If it wasn’t so sad to see a great company like PG&E keep shooting itself in the foot over and over it would be funny.  But it’s not funny!

It makes you want to “Ralph”!

That was the pseudonym used by William Deveraux, the now former Senior Director of PG&E’s Smart Meter Program as he registered on the California EMF Coalition website of a group opposed to smart meters for fear of the electromagnetic field risks they pose to health.  Ralph asked if he could help but he used his PG&E computer to register and the geeks at EMF discovered it.

BUSTED!   Yes you can help, she replied—-quit installing those dang smart meters!

According to a story in the San Jose Mercury News after Deveraux was outted by the group PG&E apologized red faced and embarrassed about the incident but the damage was done and thus Deveraux’s job was EMF’d and he was sent packing.


PG&E was also busted this week for trying to sabotage the efforts of municipal customer aggregation groups operating lawfully under the provisions of AB17, a state law passed in that gives cities and counties the right to sign up customers in their jurisdictions to make group purchases of electricity and act as a broker or middleman between end use customers and PG&E and other utilities.  The investor owned utilities hate this, of course, and PG&E pumped more than $40 million into an initiative ballot proposition in the Spring 2010 election trying to overturn the community choice aggregation (CCA) law.

The California Public Utilities Commission has told PG&E and its other jurisdictional utilities to “cooperate fully” but this is like telling the cat not to chase mice.  But a Marin Independent Journal story picked up by other newspapers told a different tale as representatives from many of these CCA groups told State Senator Mark Leno they needed legislative protection from PG&E efforts to sabotage their work.

Representatives from the Marin Energy Authority, CleanPowerSF and the San Joaquin Valley Power Authority told Leno at a two-hour hearing attended by a crowd of 75 for the Select Committee on Renewable Energy that Leno, D-San Francisco, chairs that PG&E is actively engaged in sabotaging their efforts to get into the retail electricity business..  PG&E did not send a representative to the obviously hostile meeting set up to lambast them but issued a terse press statement saying:

“We will continue to cooperate with local governments as they consider developing community choice aggregation programs. The law also affords us the opportunity to communicate with our customers so they are well-informed about their energy options.” —-PG&E Press spokesperson Katie Romans.

And there is Tiered Rate Gotcha!

The other story to pile on this week was another Marin Independent Journal report on how PG&E’s planned changes to its tiered rate structure would have the effort of undermining the Marin Energy Authority’s ability to bill its 9000 customers for their energy purchases.

PG&E uses an inclining block tiered pricing structure that charges customers more for each unit of power consumed as their volume usage climbs up the rate schedule.  This is designed to encourage conservation but PG&E’s bills also include separate uniform wires and equipment maintenance charges to cover the cost of energy delivery to customers’ homes, and a public goods charge to pay for energy conservation programs.

PG&E is asking the CPUC to change its tiered pricing for electricity, in part as a response to the Bakersfield Effect where angry customers showed up at public relations event with a state senator to celebrate installation of smart meters angrily waving their PG&E bills and complaining about rate spikes.  They blamed the smart meters for the bill spikes but it was actually the tiered rate structure combined with high summer temperatures that caused the problem.  To avoid a repeat of that Bakersfield Effect problem PG&E  wants to charge a flat fee for electricity, while shifting the tiered structure to the section of the bill having to do with transmission and distribution.

But this proposed change in rate design makes it impossible for Marin Energy Authority and other CCA agencies to accurately bill their customers. While that may an unintended consequence of PG&E proposal it looks like sabotage all over again to MEA’s effort and the authority is now lining up support from the city of San Francisco, and other large energy users, including Walmart and the University of California, Berkeley that also purchase their electricity from generators other than PG&E and thus will be forced to find a new way of billing.

“Gee that’s too bad” has been the PG&E reaction trying to avoid snickering.  Needless to say the CCA agencies are having none of that and filed protests at the CPUC.   Since San Francisco is one of the CCA agencies and Senator Leno is a champion of CCA his hearing and proposed legislation are a warning shot to both PG&E and the CPUC that these games had better stop.

So what?

PG&E is one of the country’s most progressive and accomplished investor owned utilities, but it is fowling its own nest by these repeated public relations blunders and its blatant obstruction of California’s community choice aggregation law.

We know PG&E does not like that law—we get it!

But guess what—get over it, Pete or the Board is going to have to ‘EMF’ you too because you will be so radioactive.  This boorish behavior makes me want to ‘ralph’ to coin a phrase.

Stay tuned I’m sure Snookie will make a visit to San Francisco from the Jersey Shore before this soap opera is over.