PG&E wants more from legislators

Good morning, California.

“I just pray for the town. We live in a beautiful town. The whole town is the trees and the town is the people and it’s all jeopardized right now.” — Joe Achtner, a carpenter in Idyllwild, which was being threatened by fire.

PG&E wants more. Will legislators give it?

Santa Rosa fire aftermath.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s chief executive on Thursday labeled as “insufficient” Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to ease utilities’ liability costs when their equipment sparks fires.

Remind me: Brown offered the plan to deal with future fires, as legislators opened hearings this week to consider the complex law governing how to assess costs and liability associated with wildfires.

The governor’s proposal would shift future fire costs, to the insurance industry and homeowners, or maybe to the state. Insurance companies oppose it and some legislators are skeptical.

But Sen. Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat who is co-chairing the committee, praised Brown’s “political courage” on Thursday for offering the proposal: “It needs to be discussed.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Geisha Williams, PG&E’s CEO, told Wall Street analysts: “The governor’s proposal, as a stand-alone measure, represents progress on strict liability, but it’s insufficient. We think it’s just one of many things that need to be considered in a more comprehensive reform.”

The company also wants relief from costs from devastating Northern California fires in 2017 that killed 45 people. Williams praised one measure by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, a Hayward Democrat, that would allow the utility to spread out the cost over years.

Bottom line: Williams’ comment didn’t help PG&E cause in Sacramento. Legislators don’t want the state’s largest utility to go bankrupt, something Williams has warned about. But in an election year, legislators will have a hard time approving legislation that smacks of a PG&E bailout.

Legislation helped create a Silicon Valley success

Before becoming a Silicon Valley initial public offering success on Wednesday, Sunnyvale-based Bloom Energy received hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies that came from California electricity ratepayers.

Remind me: Bloom gained prominence in 2010 when “60 Minutes” told the story of “Bloom Boxes,” fuel cells that use natural gas in chemical reactions to generate electricity. Google, Wal-Mart and many other customers buy the black cubes to limit their carbon footprint and get off the electricity grid.

The News: In its first day of trading on Wednesday, Bloom’s stock price soared 67 percent, and remained above the initial public offering price on Day 2. The San Francisco Chronicle pronounced the IPO “a success for a rare clean-tech initial public offering.”

Backstory: Bloom, founded in 2001, benefited from venture capital funding but also from an obscure state program funded by electricity ratepayers called the Self-Generation Incentive Program—insiders call it SGIP.

Between 2007 and 2016, Bloom received or will receive payments of $375.9 million, the Public Utilities Commission told me Thursday. The program was created by one obscure sentence in one piece of legislation approved in 2000.

A Bloom spokesman told me in 2011: “SGIP has enabled companies like Bloom to continue hiring and growing in California while also meeting the renewable energy goals of the state.”

The company hasn’t received the subsidy since 2016. But it sponsored 2016 legislation allowing owners of its boxes to sell excess electricity back to the grid, as people who have rooftop solar arrays can do.

Mark Toney, of The Utility Reform Network, a consumer group, said there ought to be a way for the state to reclaim part its investment so it could fund other startups: “We socialized the risk but privatized the benefit.”

Seattle could school SF on housing crisis

Seattle has a lot in common with San Francisco: bustling economy, a major tech sector, a Democratic electorate, a strong environmental ethos, and soaring housing costs that make living in either city a prohibitively expensive proposition for many long-time residents.

But Seattle has responded to its housing crisis much differently than its Bay Area counterpart. Seattle built more than twice as many homes as San Francisco between 2010 and 2016, the San Francisco Business Times reported not long ago. Seattle rents are far more expensive than they were five years ago but have begun to stabilize.

In the latest episode of their Gimme Shelter podcast, CALmatters’ Matt Levin and the LA Times’ Liam Dillon talk with Mike Rosenberg, housing reporter for the Seattle Times and the best follow onTwitter about housing. The three of them compare how the housing crisis is playing out differently in the Pacific Northwest than in California, and what lessons we can learn from our northern neighbor.

Keeping candidates honest

Democratic congressional candidate Jessica Morse falsely claimed that Republican Congressman Tom McClintock had authored a mere three bills that were signed into law in his four terms in office, PolitiFact California concluded.

Background: Morse, a first-time candidate, is running in what has been viewed as a safe Republican seat. She has attracted attention by raising more money than McClintock, who is seeking his fifth term.

The PolitiFact fact-checker, working with Capital Public Radio, found that McClintock, who resides in Elk Grove, authored four bills that have been signed into law. Morse was, however, correct that two renamed post offices in the district, which is east of Sacramento and encompasses much of the Sierra.

Politifact: Claims about members of Congress passing a small number of bills aren’t new. Nor is it necessarily a measure of effectiveness.

UC San Diego political scientist Thad Kousser, quoted by PolitiFact: “Tom McClintock is not a guy who believes you need a law for everything. He doesn’t necessarily view a law as an accomplishment.”

McClintock tweeted: “Misleading the voters of #CA04 is becoming a habit for @Morse4America.”

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Questions of the week: What did the Cal Fire official do wrong? What will college campuses soon provide? And what do voters see as the most pressing environmental issue?


Please email or call me with tips, suggestions and insights, [email protected], 916.201.6281. Thanks for reading, please tell a friend and sign up here.

See you on Monday.

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