Editorial: California Must Force PG&E to Put Safety Before Profit

January 06, 2019

Mercury News Editorial Board

Northern Californians will never have the utility they deserve until PG&E puts safety before profits.

It’s shameful that the utility hasn’t already done so. Gov. Jerry Brown, the Legislature and the California Public Utilities Commission share the blame for not forcing PG&E to change its culture.

PG&E announced Friday that it was launching a wide-ranging review of its finances and structural options that NPR reported could include selling its gas division and company headquarters. But those moves won’t address the safety concerns.

Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom must demonstrate the leadership needed to make PG&E address its safety issues. If heads need to roll, so be it. The devastating impacts of California’s wildfires demand a major culture change, as well.

The heart of the problem dates back to 2001, when PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection during the state’s energy crisis. Rather than put an engineer in the top leadership position, the utility in 2005 installed its CFO, Peter Darbee, as president and CEO.  PG&E’s primary focus ever since has been on protecting its bottom line.