PG&E bankruptcy will have wide, unpredictable impact

PG&E stock price craters. Bloomberg

Potential liability from the Camp Fire is a primary reason for the coming PG&E bankruptcy. Should PG&E have turned off power to the Camp Fire area when the winds started to avoid potential power line fires? In retrospect, maybe yes. But it’s complicated. Turning off the power means first responders like fire, police, paramedics, and hospitals might not have power in their facilities. Water pumps might stop working, precisely when they are most needed. Some of these facilities might have backup power, others won’t. Microgrids would be a great idea. However, the problems with microgrids highlights the huge funding problem faced by PG&E. Upgrading the grid to make it resilient is expensive.

Protecting power lines is expensive

Removing hazardous trees in remote areas that threaten to power lines can cost $5,000 ea. Undergrounding existing regular lines costs $4-5 million a mile. High voltage underground lines can cost upwards of $8 million a mile. PG&E has 125,000 miles of lines…

Credit ratings

Renewable energy plants in California often have multi-year contracts to sell all their power to one utility. So far, two plants that sell exclusively to PG&E have had their bond rating downgraded over uncertainty about whether they will be paid on time. PG&E has been downgraded too. Maybe you have mutual fund retirement accounts that hold PG&E and California renewable energy stocks. If so, they are getting hammered.

The PG&E bankruptcy will have major impacts on the grid in California, plans for renewable energy, stock and bond prices, and more.

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