Wild Tree Foundation’s April Maurath Sommer joined host Larry Mantle on NPR’s Air Talk to discuss PG&E’s outrageous idea of undergrounding 10,000 miles of power lines. Listen here
“Focusing on tree trimming and preemptive power shut-offs is a fundamentally flawed approach, said April Rose Maurath Sommer, the executive and legal director of Wild Tree Foundation.
‘Their focus continues to be, as far as I can tell, what are the two least-effective techniques for decreasing wildfire ignitions from utility infrastucture,’ Sommer said. More effective and cheaper would be using “covered conductors,” or covering bare wires with plastic she added.
About 171 miles of high-risk wires and equipment were “hardened” in 2019 by putting them underground or adding insulation, the report said. The company plans to complete another 180 miles this year.
Sommer said the progress was far too slow to make a difference.”
-San Francisco Chronicle, This is how PG&E says it will try to prevent wildfires in 2021 (February 5, 2021) read more
“Some stakeholders, however, remained critical of the certification, and questioned why the division granted PG&E the certification while also detailing problems with its wildfire mitigation processes.
“To me, this feels like a 16-year-old going to get their first drivers test and the DMV says, well, during the test you ran a red light and made an illegal U-turn and you probably hit and killed four pedestrians — but here’s your drivers license anyway,” April Rose Maurath Sommer, executive and legal director of the Wild Tree Foundation, said.
The issuance of the safety certification is conditioned on PG&E having an approved wildfire mitigation plan — but the process for approving that plan has been changed from one where the public had the opportunity to get involved to a more ministerial function, Maurath Sommer said.
“So there’s not an opportunity for legitimate, meaningful involvement by the public in the approval of the [plans] and that becomes the basis for the safety certification,” she added.”
-Utility Dive, CPUC safety certification eases PG&E access to wildfire insurance fund, prompting backlash (January 20, 2021) read more
California Current, PG&E’s $7.5B Ratepayer Bond Would Assume Shareholder Debt (Nov. 10, 2020) read more
“Stakeholders in California have raised concerns that the company is still exposed to the risk of wildfires in its service territory. PG&E plans to “harden” around 7,000 miles of its power lines in the next 12 to 14 years, April Rose Maurath Sommer, the Wild Tree Foundation’s executive and legal director, told Utility Dive in early July — out of more than 30,000 miles of lines located in parts of California prone to wildfires.”
-Utility Dive: PG&E faces soaring insurance costs, leadership changes in rest of 2020 (July 31, 2020) read more
“”I’m guessing that it is probably not a particularly enjoyable role at this point to be the head of PG&E — they are a much vilified company, and completely deservedly so,” Maurath Sommer concurred.
She has doubts about the strategy of bringing in a new CEO at this point, especially given that the bottom has completely fallen out of the economy due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The company is going to require someone “who needs to look very differently at [the way] they are approaching ratemaking right now.””
Utility Dive, Advocates question move to new PG&E CEO amid coronavirus, upcoming wildfire season (April 23, 2020) read more
“April Rose Maurath Sommer, executive and legal director of the Wild Tree Foundation, a group involved in the regulatory proceedings, said she thought the commission didn’t go far enough. She had appealed the $2.14 billion penalty decision even before Rechtschaffen sought to change it, and she wanted the commission to preserve its ability to investigate the company’s conduct surrounding 2017 and 2018 fires.
Allowing PG&E to avoid the $200 million fine altogether is “the worst possible message you can send to the utility,” she said.
“It informs them that even when the commission has determined that a utility should be fined, if they are able to use some cunning and clever lawyering, they’re not going to have to pay,” she said. “It’s very disturbing.””
-San Francisco Chronicle, California regulators move closer to approving PG&E’s exit from bankruptcy (April 21, 2020) read more
The CPUC has fast tracked an application by PG&E to increase residential rates $900 million dollars beginning in August by an average of 5-7%. This is just one of many rate increases PG&E plans on foisting on its customers in the coming months and year. PG&E would have the Commission approve their request for “interim” rates without any determination whether or not the requested rate increase is just or reasonable. PG&E has also applied for the Commission to establish a new process for the regulated utilities to automatically increase rates with no review whatsoever every time a utility states that it has spent $100 million on certain expenses. Such an automatic “interim” rate increase would flip the ratemaking process on its head and would rely on the word of private, for-profit companies like PG&E, now a two time convicted felon.
Wild Tree strongly objects to this manipulative effort by PG&E to utilize ratepayers as unwitting lenders. “‘PG&E’s current scenario doesn’t meet the standards of an “emergency situation’ that would warrant raising rates prematurely, April Rose Maurath Sommer, executive and legal director of the Wild Tree Foundation, told Utility Dive. . . ‘Our position is they’re effectively trying to turn ratepayers into a piggy bank and acquiring what would be extremely low-interest loans from ratepayers,’ Maurath Sommer told Utility Dive.
PG&E’s customers already pay some of the highest rates in the country, she added, and despite commitments to refund the costs at a later date, ‘the harm’s long been done then.’” Utility Dive, PG&E request for early recovery of $899M from customers troubles ratepayer advocates read more