PG&E rebuffed SF’s $2.5 billion offer for the city’s grid in 2019, but now the city is power-playing for an appraisal and gaming to force the utility to sell.

With the exception of the constant factor that PG&E starts wildfires every summer, plenty has changed since San Francisco tried to buy PG&E’s grid and power lines within city limits back in 2019 for $2.5 billion. Most notably, coronavirus came along. But the anticipated decimation of the city’s budget was neatly avoided thanks to Biden bailout bucks, so San Francisco can once again afford to make sizable investments in clean energy. PG&E, for their part, are no longer in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, so their backs are perhaps less against the wall.

But the city is still determined to buy the grid, and forcing PG&E’s hand at it. The Chronicle reports San Francisco just petitioned the California Public Utilities Commission to appraise what a fair price would be for every pole, wire, line, and other piece of equipment PG&E owns, so the city can promptly buy it and operate it as their own. If $2.5 billion was too low, the city says, let’s have an independent body determine the fair price.

“PG&E’s ongoing problems with providing safe and reliable gas and electric service throughout its service territory are well-known,” says the petition from city attorney and soon-to-be SFPUC manager Dennis Herrera, also signed by the mayor and listing many other city officials as parties. “The Commission has acknowledged that PG&E’s recent history of safety performance ‘has ranged from dismal to abysmal.’ While San Francisco has not experienced the devastation associated with catastrophic wildfires and other disasters caused by PG&E, over the years PG&E’s difficulty in maintaining a safe and reliable system has caused multiple incidents resulting in injuries and property damage within the City.”

The petition is to the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission), but San Francisco also has an SFPUC (San Francisco Public Utilities Commission) that keeps having to shell out unexpected taxpayer dollars for what they call “mother-may-I” charges from the utility. The SFPUC’s assistant general manager Barbara Hale cited a recent $1 billion charge where “PG&E is making us invest a tremendous amount of money just to continue to have the streetlights connected to their grid.” And you have to take into account that PG&E has historically failed to rein in extravagant executive spending.


It’s hard to find a good guy to root for in a fight between PG&E and City Hall, and don’t worry, you don’t need to pick a side anytime soon. As seen above in the timeline petitioner's request, they will be haggling over this decision for months, and the CPUC is not asked to really provide a definitive dollar valuation for another 480 days. So we’re talking mid-November 2022 here, at which point theoretically another set of negotiations occurs between the city and PG&E.

So if fighting climate change is a goal here, frankly, god knows what condition the planet will be in by the time this gets resolved.

Related: PG&E Finally Has Plans to Put Electrical Lines Underground In Fire-Prone Areas [SFist]

Image: CBRE