How would public ownership work?
A publicly owned and operated PG&E would be directly accountable to ratepayers and workers. If PG&E were to become a public utility, the state would own PG&E’s generation, transmission, distribution, and procurement, and the public would democratically elect an oversight board.
There are many examples of the public utility model working in this country and elsewhere. Right in our own backyard is the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), an exemplary public utility established in 1923 by dissatisfied PG&E customers. SMUD consistently receives the highest scores of any California utility in customer satisfaction surveys, and ratepayers on average pay significantly less than their neighbors who get power and gas from PG&E. Moreover, SMUD’s greenhouse gas reduction goals often predate and exceed those set by the state. In the last few years, SMUD has proposed massive investments in renewables, taken advantage of burgeoning technologies like storage, and made ambitious electrification plans for transit and buildings. Most importantly, SMUD is governed by an elected board of directors, making it more democratically responsive than our investor-owned utility, which is accountable first to its shareholders.
What would public ownership look like?
Large majority-public utilities are also common elsewhere in the world. Public utilities in France, Finland, and Austria have some of the lowest carbon intensity of any utility in Europe, due in part to how they are governed and their accountability to the public.
In light of PG&E's impending bankruptcy, its scandals, and a strong, popular demand for clean energy, steps are already being taken in California toward taking PG&E public. The California Public Utilities Commission has begun to explore various models of state intervention or takeover. The city of San Francisco is poised to purchase PG&E's electricity distribution infrastructure within the city.
All over California, we are seeing the growth of community choice aggregation programs, which create local entities to procure clean energy, yet still relying on PG&E for distribution and billing. While we seek a wholesale takeover of PG&E, rather than localities breaking away in piecemeal, these local initiatives show a growing movement for energy democracy and a clean, safe, and just energy system.
The first official step needed towards public ownership of PG&E is for the state to conduct a feasibility study. But thanks to existing examples like SMUD, our movement already knows that a publicly owned and governed PG&E can free our energy system from self-serving CEOs and Wall Street profits. With public ownership of PG&E, our energy system can be safer and more affordable for ratepayers, provide secure union jobs for utility workers, and expand clean energy on the urgent timeline demanded by climate change.