Can PG&E keep the lights on?

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PG&E sign stating that the Company is conducting wildfire safety work. Sausalito, CA. Photo by Sundry Photography/Shutterstock.

The failed history of America’s biggest utility is the focus of Katherine Blunt’s book, “California Burning: The Fall of Pacific Gas and Electric – And What it Means for America’s Power Grid.” 

In 2017 and 2018, there were 20 deadly and massively expensive wildfires because PG&E chose to increase profits rather than maintain equipment, she reports. 

In the Camp Fire of 2018, a specific piece of hardware failed that was 100 years old, and records show executives knew what they were doing. Thus, 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter ensued, Blunt says. 

PG&E pled guilty to multiple corporate crimes. 

Meanwhile, she points out that two bankruptcies created opportunities for “a lot of companies involved in manipulating the market.” That includes Wall Street interests, hedge funds, and Enron. 

Now PG&E is far behind the infrastructure improvements needed to deal with climate change, and the utility’s not alone, as the nation’s grid in general is old and prone to failure, Blunt says. 

The author concludes that any company that has misstepped on taking risks and spending funds will struggle to stay afload when Americans are increasingly relying on electricity. 




Warren Olney


Andrea Brody