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Letters (November 27, 2019)

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Driving down Highway 128 last Wednesday, Nov. 20, I saw a man burning brush in the vineyard across from the Little Red Schoolhouse. I went down and told our fire chief about it and he said that Air Quality said it was a burn day. The Chief was as surprised as I was. This was the day that PG&E warned of possible power shut-offs because of winds and overall fire danger.

I guess the guy had a permit. I just wonder who’s the biggest dumb-ass? The guy burning like this or the one who gave him the permit?

Rickey Adams


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Now that most of the smoke has settled and the power has returned to our neighborhoods, it is probably a good time to look at what went wrong. Of course I am referring to the Pacific Gas and Electric public safety power shutoffs.

Bear with me, because there are a lot of moving parts. But, in the end, I believe I will substantiate my hypothesis that PG&E management are a bunch of ham-handed nincompoops.

A lot of us became aware of this back in 2010, when a neglected gas pipeline blew up in San Bruno, killing eight people and injuring another 60, while destroying 30 homes. But PG&E’s incompetence really came home to me in their failed launch of the “smart meters.”

Back a couple of years ago, without informing customers, PG&E rolled out this program – or perhaps I should say “crammed it down our throats” — resulting in a partial implementation that defeated the entire intent of the technology. So for the moving parts of the discussion; the old mechanical/inductive electric meters were notoriously inaccurate – over or under metering power use by 20-30%. This required the utility to generate 30% excess power to prepare for usage spikes – like when folks come home from work and all turn on electric heaters or air conditioners at about the same time.

The smart meters collect real-time usage data and create localized cellular power utilization profiles – reducing overhead power generation requirements to just 5%. The real-time data is communicated to the utility by way of cell-phone technology (at one-third the broadcast energy, at the same broadcast band as cell phones). But PG&E management, without letting us know, just started installing the new meters – amplifying the distrust we already had about the utility.

Conspiracies bloomed and conjecture was rampant. What started out as a good idea degenerated into a mosh pit of consumers and meter installers fighting it out in the streets. At least nobody got killed, but almost; at one point a meter-installation contractor was charging his truck into a line of Inverness protesters who were laying their bodies down on Sir Francis Drake Blvd to stop the installation.

So now we have the fires, a couple of years in a row – ostensibly caused by more neglected PG&E equipment. So the utility’s response was to shut down all power during weather conditions that put their neglected equipment at risk. But when they shut down power to all of Marin County, it included the marina areas of Sausalito and San Rafael and Corte Madera Creek, as well as downtown business districts where fire danger was not really in the deck.

What am I to make of PG&E’s capability to manage a “smart” power grid under these circumstances? I return to my original hypothesis that PG&E management are ham-handed nincompoops. Although I do need to be a bit charitable here; as a privatized public utility, the managers need to attend to their shareholders, as well as reward themselves with bonuses and competitive executive compensation packages. This was punctuated by a recent $11 million bonus package offered to their top 16 managers who had to decide how to cut costs to provide billions of dollars in dividends to their shareholders over the years.

While I believe I have substantiated my hypothesis, I would argue that these additional factors provide the evidence that we should not privatize our public utilities.

PG&E is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy – allowing them to reorganize and pay their creditors (including the victims). I suggest that they liquidate under Chapter 7 and have all the assets inure to the rate-payers. It should be managed as a public utility without the burdens of dividends to shareholders, and competitive executive pay packages.

Michael Stocker

Forest Knolls

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Re: Your Honda Civic

Congratulations on your Honda reaching 300,000 miles. I had a 1986 Civic hatchback and currently own a 2002 four door Civic. The engine on both cars blew a head gasket at 330,000 miles. I chose the least expensive option and had a used engine installed in both cars. I drove the ‘86 another 100,000+ miles until it wouldn’t pass the smog test so the state of CA paid me $1,000 to get it off the road. The 2002 now has 375,000 miles on it and it runs great. I hope you have a plan for a replacement vehicle. May your Honda keep going for many more miles. 

Gary Guliasi


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“We weren’t as well prepared as we thought, and we needed to give a little more attention — a lot more attention — to impacts after we shut the power off,” PG&E’s CEO told state legislators. 

Seriously? Perhaps if a PG&E board member or high-level executive lived in the Santa Rosa area they might understand what the problems are. Apparently, some of the Southern California utilities have figured out how to turn off electricity to smaller areas, why not PG&E?

Sandra Christensen


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