CPUC, ex-PG&E chief’s policies hurt consumers 

They are on the job. They are breathing fire. They are eternally vigilant, as Pravda in its glory days used to put it. And I, for one, am eternally grateful.

I refer to those sharp-eyed protectors of the consumer over at the California Public Utilities Commission, who have made it absolutely clear that no way will they allow PG&E customers to be billed for the golden parachute given to outgoing CEO Peter Darbee.

And so consumers will not — repeat, will not — be dinged for Darbee’s $9.6 million pension. This is the same CPUC, of course, that has had no reservations whatsoever about approving vast expansions of wind and solar generation, which under recent legislation will increase transmission costs by at least $12 billion, require conventional backup capacity costing at least $5 billion and, on a kilowatt-hour basis, will cost consumers 100 to 300 percent more than conventional generation, according to the Energy Information Administration.  

Costs will rise, reliability will fall and air pollution (because of the up-and-down cycling of the backup generators) actually will increase, as has happened in Colorado and Texas. So much for protecting consumers.

As for Darbee: PG&E customers should have been willing to pay far more than a mere $9.6 million to get rid of him. He co-authored a paper about a year ago on climate change that was factually incorrect, analytically dishonest and pretended to be inspired by his great concern for the future of mankind.

He forgot to mention that this principled stand in favor of constraints on carbon dioxide emissions in truth was driven by the prospect of large allocations of “free” carbon permits, the imposition of a competitive disadvantage upon competitors not using natural gas heavily and a massive wealth transfer from coal-fired states (which would be forced to buy permits) to California, where the Sacramento tax-and-regulatory monster has created huge risks and costs for PG&E’s operations and markets.

Darbee actually seems to have believed that he could play with such political fire without being burned, that genuflection toward the gods of political correctitude would be reciprocated, and that no one would notice such a transparent promotion of self-interest masquerading as civic virtue.

Just like PG&E’s customers, its shareholders as well should be willing to pay a huge sum to be rid of him. Thus, Darbee proved himself to be a uniter rather than a divider.

The hypocrisy revealed by this episode is breathtaking. The ones who will suffer the effects of destructive energy policies are households, businesses, schools, hospitals and virtually everyone else. When will the CPUC really stand up for them? Don’t hold your breath.

Ben Zycher, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute.

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