By the numbers, buying out PG&E makes perfect sense

With the stock collapsing, California could take over the utility, rebuild a safe grid -- and still make money. Try the numbers.

At one point yesterday, shares in Pacific Gas and Electric Co. fell so low that the entire company was worth as little as $9 billion. The only reason shares rose in later trading was that the head of the California Public Utilities Commission said he would seek another bailout to keep the company out of bankruptcy.

This CalFire map shows the extent of the destruction near Paradise; red means structures are totally gone

Why?

Why should the taxpayers and/or the ratepayers cover the costs of PG&E’s blunders – and get nothing in return except the responsibility to prop up a company with a horrible safety record, an embarrassing failure to adopt renewable energy programs, and overpaid executives who are never held accountable?

How about we let PG&E slide into bankruptcy – and then the state can buy it.

Think about the numbers for a second. Assume $9 billion is the market price (it would go way lower if the state hadn’t promise a bailout). Assume the state has to pay 4.2 percent interest on 30-year bonds (that’s probably high, but let’s be conservative). The cost of taking over PG&E would be about $378 million a year – and the company makes more than that in profit in a good quarter.

In other words, unless I’m missing something here, even with very conservative assumptions, a California Public Power Authority over the next few years could pay off the bonds, rebuild the dangerous infrastructure, cover the costs of the wildfire tragedies – and still make money. 

Yeah, the state would have to take on the company’s liabilities – but we are going to have to do that anyway. Either the taxpayers or the ratepayers are going to get stuck with the cost of paying for PG&E’s mistakes.

A decade from now, northern California could have a modern grid, most of it underground, far more renewable power, and probably lower rates. Or we could stick with PG&E.

Why is this even a matter of debate?

Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.