Salon Gets It (Mostly) Right on the California Power Outages

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A good article from Salon is the most rare of rare occurrences. Years of prophecy has foretold that one day, something would be published with Salon that would be worth the 2-4 minutes of your life that it consumes to read it. Only somewhat untrue jokes aside, this article from Salon not only deals with the issue on the California power outages that has been popping in the media recently, but also gives some interesting insight, albeit with a slightly anti-business flavor.

The situation in California right now can be summed up in: "monopolies are bad and do bad things because they are monopolies and monopolies do bad things." The utility monopoly Pacific Gas and Electric that supplies power to parts of California shut off power in parts of California for up to 5 days, some were only informed a few hours before that their electricity would be taking a few days off. Yikes. The (presumably) monocle-wearing bigwigs at PG&E told everyone that this was a safety measure. The National Weather Service issued a "Red Flag-Warning", the highest warning possible for a potential wildfire, or also communists.

A PG&E wildfire safety expert, Sumeet Singh, said that these outages were a last resort. The only "wildfire safety expert" I personally trust is Smokey the bear, so I'm not sure about this guy. I'm not even going to comment on the name, come up with your own punchline there.

The author of this piece is Nicole Karlis. Like previously stated, she has some good insights on this whole fiasco. She points out that: "...the poorest and infirm will be hit hardest: dialysis centers and small clinics will have to close for the duration of outages."

While the piece does feel a bit like on an attack on business in general, as opposed to the reason the company was able to do what it does, i.e. the government, it isn't explicit enough to ruin the good bits already there. I'll give it a pass, as it is expected at Salon. She goes on to find, "Though PG&E is positioning the move as a preventative measure, it was also avoidable: the company chose to diverting money from power line under-grounding projects — among other infrastructure initiatives — to “other high priority system improvements” like boosting corporate profits and paying executives even more."

The monocles at PG&E aren't new to the game of being terrible people, however. According to Karlis, "In 1994, the company's failure to trim trees near its power lines led to the Trauner Fire in Nevada County, California. In 1997, a jury found the company guilty on 739 counts of criminal negligence for causing this fire. Thanks to a subsequent California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) investigation, the public learned that between 1987 and 1994 PG&E diverted $495 million from its budgets to maintain its systems to boost corporate profits."

There's more of this kind of reporting in the article with a similar flavor. Bottom line, however, this public monopoly should quickly go the way of the dodo and live on only in the history books. Got to give it to Salon, however, for a mostly solid piece. I'm all for exposing bad government-created monopolies (as all true monopolies are), and PG&E appears to pretty bad alright.


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