Utility vs Public Utility

I used to think the terms were interchangeable. Come to find out they couldnt be more different. In California, the electric utility PG and E is a utility that has private investors. Thus it needs to provide a return on their investment. Ironically, thats why they are cutting off power because the wind is blowing harder than usual. It seems insane that a state like CA would allow this, but have they learned that if its a utility, and the company providing it is a monopoly, it might just be better for it to be publicly owned and not have to pay loud investors a return? To make money, they have deferred maintenance, but yet paid bonuses and dividends. That seems kind of screwed up along with not burying the lines. Does it not make sense that if you are susceptible to weather that can start catastrophic wildfires that you would bury the lines? Would it not make sense that in instances where you have to dig anyway for other reason to put in places to run electrical lines (as well as fiber for broadband)? They didnt do it because the profit motive was stronger than the ability to run a system that would be resilient long run. I think all utilities should be publicly owned for reasons like this. You have people cut off from electricity here…people with lead in the water in other places, and yet investors always seem to get paid in full…just ask the people of Puerto Rico about that.

I didn’t know PG&E was a private company. That said, it should please you because they will likely be bankrupted by lawsuits arising from last year’s wildfires.

Private VS. Public

*“Either of these could be great ideas or either of them could be terrible. At the end of the day, it all just comes down to the quality of the governance. With the regulated utility model, the problem you get is “regulatory capture.” Joe Taxpayer has a lot of things to worry about and the governor’s appointments to the regulatory commission are pretty far down the list. Johnny Utility CEO has a lot of things to worry about too, but the governor’s appointments to the regulatory commission are pretty high up the list. So the commissioners end up getting systematically biased toward the interests of the regulated entity rather than the public. But with the publicly owned monopoly model the exact same governance issue arises again. Voters are not informed about or interested in electrical utility management. Management and appointments will be politicized and excess rents will be extracted from consumers. The difference is in where the rents go!”

I don’t have deep insight on this, so please forgive me if my question is tone-deaf:

I understand and agree that the utility shouldn’t really have a profit motive, but with the situation that exists today and out of an abundance of caution, doesn’t it make sense for PG&E to shut down portions of the grid that are at a high risk of triggering a wild fire? I recall last year that they received a great deal of criticism for failing to shut down the grid and causing the Paradise tragedy as a result.

IE, yes, the infrastructure investment for safety should obviously be paramount, but even if that happened the day after Paradise, it’d take years to catch up on the backlogged work. Isn’t it better to play it safe and cut the power than to let it roll and risk starting a deadly wildfire?

Almost all of America has third-world-quality overhead distribution lines. (Overhead transmission lines are generally unavoidable.) If you want a better electric distribution system, go to a first world nation.

We have a private corporate electrical utility here in Florida, and every time a hurricane knocks out power for days or weeks the subject of underground lines comes up.

The utility rep always argues that burying underground lines after the fact is too expensive, and that it makes more sense to do it in new developments. They also say underground lines are more susceptible to damage from floods.

I don’t know if these arguments are just corporate justification for disinvestment. Some new real estate developments down here do feature underground lines, but those are few and far between.

Private utilities are like rent seekers; you’re never done paying off your electric bill. And even though in Florida there is a state commission to oversee them, they are typically captured through corporate or lobbyist representation on the regulatory board. I imagine it’s like that in other states with regulated private utilities.

Electric utilities are very conservative and averse to government regulation. I doubt any of them would have undertaken something like the Hoover Dam or Tennessee Valley Authority without government investment; the payoff period is too long for their short-sighted profit outlook.

Burying lines in rocky terrain
How do you do that on steep inclines

As a regulated utility how do you pay for that when the state regulatory say no to expensive
Projects

When you shut down power to prevent fires how is that irresponsible

Why would anyone invest in a utility or to do business in a state where common sense left the state years ago

I have a townhome in a place where the city owns the utilities

The gas is 15% higher
Electricity is 20% higher
Water about the same

Why is it more expensive , economy of scale, smaller employee pool, slower response times more costly gas economy of scale

Not enough capacity purchase electricity on the open market

Those coal to gas conversions are expensive

It might be cost-effective for PG&E/CA to subsidize home battery sets. Announce power-down for the grid, enable the batteries. Batteries recharge after power comes back.

Once a home has batteries, the residents can buy cheap power at night and burn it in the day. Also it’s an incentive to add home solar and wind generation.

That is about to change:

The law passed in June requires utilities to make improvements to existing electrical infrastructure to make it more resilient and reliable during and after storms, particularly by moving outage-prone portions underground. It also requires public utilities to submit a 10-year plan for storm hardening.

Duke and Florida Power & Light both began projects in 2018 to move their most outage-prone infrastructure underground. Duke did not submit a cost estimate for its plan to move 1,200 miles of overhead power lines underground over a 10-year period. But Florida Power & Light projected that for its plan to put 158 miles of lines underground over three years, it would need $100 million. That amounts to about $632,911 per mile.

https://www.tampabay.com/business/florida-utilities-will-start-burying-more-power-lines-youll-pay-the-bill-20190801/

You are from Florida correct?

I don’t have a lot of experience with floods, but running electrical service underground to every meter when the water, sewer, gas, sidewalks and driveways are already in place is bah-rutally expensive and disruptive.

Gravity sewer has to run downhill from the house. Water (here, anyway) has to be at least seven feet below grade, and if you put the electric (usually 42" deep) over the water or sewer and the water or sewer breaks, the repair gets very very expensive.

I was watching a crew in Manassas VA a couple years ago digging in a new fiber line in an established residential neighborhood and that was done pretty much by ten guys with shovels hand-digging over existing utilities.

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Took the words right out of my mouth on that one. :rofl:

Now just how smart is it when you have blackouts to not have natural gas as a backup?

Cities and towns across the state are considering measures to encourage developers to use only electric appliances in new buildings—and skip installing natural gas lines for stoves, furnaces and water heaters.

I’d imagine more and more will be use portable generators when there is a blackout (until they are banned because of contributing to global warming :roll_eyes:) Generators get hot and could be the cause for another source of fire.

The Carr fire spread after sparks from the wheel rim of a car fell on dry grass.

Add to that a lot of people didn’t know about the black outs and are dependent on electricity for medical reasons.

Yes, I live in SW Florida :wink:

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Natural gas is great when you use it to power the emergency generator. If your stupid enough to be in the outback where the outside Chance may exist one would think a generator would be mandatory
Gas beats hauling fuel. I have one for the occasional outage
Funny my generator exhaust gets hot and is in an enclosure next to the house. Guess combustibles being away from the generator makes sense

Dissing the power company for providing power amid the mass of regulations and stupid people is a challenge

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Expensive and ratepayers are reluctant to foot the bill

Water lines are in one side of the street. Sewer in the other, gas off set from the center

Funny how the local governments all approve gas and electric before a community is built and now all want to play back seat drivers

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It’s like they create their own problems and then are too stupid to see the consequences.

I also have portable generator for outages. When a hurricane blows through we could be weeks without power.

I keep it in the center of my driveway about 8 feet away from the house and run cords to the refrigerator and portable AC. Air flow to keep the carbon monoxide from getting into the house as well as to keep the engine as cool as possible.

The reason I ask is because there is a reason why there are no basements in Florida correct? So would that same reason apply to burying cables underground too?

New communities here have the electricity run underground all of the time.

The cost to run the utilities underground in existing communities is extremely expensive.

No basements. Normally people build stilt homes and enclose the ground floor so that is kind of like a basement.

There was a guy who is remodeling his home who did just that. Had it seriously decked out (talking serious money spent on it). Code inspector came in and is making him rip it all out because it is below flood zone.

This is an interesting discussion, kudos to all for keeping it on track and civil!

I think one of the issues here might be that California has what is called (in legalese) “strict liability” for damages caused by utilities - that means that they are responsible even if not negligent. So that already gives utilities close to the maximum incentive possible to not cause harm.

The fires were caused by high-tension wires traversing mountains. It would be ruinously expensive to bury those. Pipelines cost about $7m per mile, so I assume buried electric cables would be a bit cheaper but a similar order of magnitude. California has around 25,000 miles of high-tension cables, so we’re talking close to two hundred billions dollars to bury those, let alone the 10X length of distribution cables. Yikes!

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I wonder if there is a less expensive way, like a pipeline, that keeps everything contained? Rather a conundrum isn’t it. :face_with_monocle:

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