Who should suffer for PG&E's sins?

Clay Kallam

Whether you love, hate or don’t have a strong opinion about PG&E is irrelevant.

Sure, the big utility has had its issues in recent years, and like any large corporation, overpays its executives and dodges community responsibility. But those who are cheering the $45 million judgement against PG&E might want to put down their pom-poms for a moment and consider this question: Who’s going to pay that fine?

It won’t take too long to realize that the $45 million is going to find its way to our monthly bill, and as a result, all of us ratepayers will get to pay even more for PG&E’s mistakes.

And it will take not much longer than that to realize that cutting the fat out of PG&E’s executive suite won’t go very far to paying off $45 million either. Yes, you see a $51 million number thrown around as CEO pay, but only $14 million of that is salary. OK, “only $14 million” is pretty bad on its face, but that number isn’t out of line for someone running a company that large.

And if you fire Patricia Poppe, you have to hire someone else.

But let’s just say that PG&E can cut $22.5 million in salaries without affecting the company’s ability to manage the present and plan for the future (which is questionable – after all, you get what you pay for when it comes to executive talent). That still leaves $22.5 million left for someone else to pay – and that someone else, of course, is you and me.

Which leads to this question: Why does fining PG&E make any sense at all? Wouldn’t a better punishment be to force PG&E to limit executive compensation, say? Or tie the CEO’s pay to the average worker salary? Or demand more investment and encouragement for alternative power sources?

It’s one thing to show that PG&E deserves to be held accountable for mismanagement and technically avoidable errors. It’s quite another to make ratepayers pay even more for that accountability.

If the idea is to punish PG&E, punish PG&E – not the people who have to pay their rapidly rising bills each month.

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Photo by(Andrey Metelev/Unsplash)


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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to claykallam@gmail.com.

Walnut Creek, CA
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