‘Clean energy leader’ PG&E Filing Bankruptcy – rejects investor bailout – massive rate hike looms

If only they’d spent more money on keeping their infrastructure maintained instead of chasing green dreams.

From Zero Hedge late yesterday:

Confirming earlier reports that distressed California utility PG&E had rejected a proposal by some of the world’s most prominent investors that would keep it out of bankruptcy, moments ago Bloomberg reported that the board of the embattled utility which is facing $30 billion in wildfire liabilities, voted late Monday to file for bankruptcy protection as soon as midnight.

In pursuing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, PG&E is declining a proposal by an investing group led by Paul Singer’s Elliott Management that would’ve been backed by $4 billion in bonds and given the company enough cash to stay avoid bankruptcy while working through its liabilities. A second group of investors including Ken Griffin’s Citadel and Leon Black’s Apollo who had pitched a rival plan, were also rebuffed.

By rejecting the last minute rescue bids, PG&E – which was rated investment grade as recently as a few weeks ago by both S&P and Moody’s- is set to file one of the biggest U.S. utility bankruptcies of all time, with over $30 billion in debt about to be in default. The company  which serves 16 million customers, said a Chapter 11 filing is the only way it can handle the crippling costs of 2017 and 2018 wildfires that its equipment has been blamed for igniting. Since November, when California was hit by the deadliest fire in its history, the company has seen its shares plunge by 75 percent and its credit rating cut to junk.

By going from investment grade to bankruptcy within one year, PG&E will be what BofA recently dubbed not a “fallen angel” but a “failing angel”, representing a singular event: when it files for bankruptcy some time in the next 12 hours, PG&E will become the third largest IG default since 1999, behind Lehman and Worldcom, with $17.5bn of index eligible debt.

Full story here

In another story, we have this:

PG&E files for bankruptcy as possible rate spike looms

PG&E is also answering to federal judge William Alsup, who is overseeing its probation following the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion. Earlier this month, Alsup asked the utility to invest in electrical infrastructure renovations costing up to $150 billion to “reduce to zero the number of wildfires caused by PG&E in the 2019 wildfire season,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

PG&E said it’s possible that paying $150 billion could result in “an estimated one-year increase of more than five times current rates.”

Questions still remain regarding what the bankruptcy could mean for rising energy rates, California’s climate goals, how the utility will be operated, and the future of PG&E’s San Francisco landmark headquarters, which includes 1.4 million square feet of office space in SoMa that could be worth $1.25 billion in a sale.

From Bizjournals, here

Source of graphics here


Added:

I’m wondering, in their bid for cash in bankruptcy, will PG&E suspend credits for homeowner solar generation? It’s a possibility.

124 thoughts on “‘Clean energy leader’ PG&E Filing Bankruptcy – rejects investor bailout – massive rate hike looms

  1. The nutters in California are going to discover (the hard way, of course) TANSTAAFL.

    California electricity already costs nearly 2× the national average.

    • TANSTAAFL……..
      Took me awhile to figure that one out…(without searching goofly)..LOL
      p.s. I totally agree.

    • When are the leftist wing nuts going to learn that the only truly free lunch is guzzling gas from a fat Saudi pipe!

      • Here’s how you DESTROY capitalism … raise taxes on the middle class, then make the basic needs of life; health care and energy so expensive as to leave no “”disposable” income whatsoever for the vast majority of the citizens. Broken and desperate, the population will flee into the arms of the very first 29yo with horse teeth who promises FREE STUFF.

        • Actually rent and/or house prices and transportation to work are the two biggest costs in Uk. Many decent earners in their 20s pay so much in rent and season tickets that they have no chance to save a deposit for a house purchase.

        • As much as I love this site for the science and engineering topics discussed here as well as the many fantastic comments left by so many, I have to say that this type of ad hominem attack just isn’t necessary to make a point. It takes very little cleverness to come up with “29 yo with horse teeth.” Try something that causes you to use the brain you have other than something that appeals the to lowest common denominator. Ir does this site and grave disservice.

          [In general, the mods agree: ad hominems are unnecessary and tend to be disruptive to productive discourse. Even admittedly mild ones, such as above, can derail a conversation. Please consider this topic closed and in need of no further commentary. -mod]

      • At that rate, the consumers could afford to get their own generators, which who fantastically increase SanFran air pollution.

  2. “The bankruptcy could also be problematic for wholesale power providers like NextEra and Consolidated Edison as PG&E is expected to try and renegotiate contracts to purchase wind and solar power after cancelling some $34.5 billion in longstanding contracts.”

    • If I was a cynical sort of fella, I’d suspect that PG&E is looking to leverage the potential fire claims as a way of breaking all those long term contracts. I recall reading somewhere that their locked in prices are 2-4X the current prices for renewables. It’s even fishier since the state recently absolved them of the 2017 fires.

    • Chapter 11 means that the company continues in operation under the control of a bankruptcy trustee. For sure, management can’t pick and choose among the creditors. The only ones to benefit from this are the lawyers.

      Perversely, the management team that got the company where it is could end up with big bonuses as an incentive to keep them from leaving.

      • Chapter 11 means that the company continues in operation under the control of a bankruptcy trustee.” Thanks for the Info –

        and isn’t that the best solution for P&GE.

        The management earns and should get the Boni.

          • Here’s a description of judicial management in Singapore

            Judicial management is a method of debt restructuring where an independent judicial manager is appointed to manage the affairs, business and property of a company under financial distress. The company is also temporarily shielded from legal proceedings by third-parties, giving it the opportunity to rehabilitate. link

            It sounds like Chapter 11 in America.

            A bankruptcy trustee oversees bankruptcy, with specific duties depending on the jurisdiction and type of bankruptcy.

          • The problem is that in some high profile bankruptcies, you can get a trustee who is mostly interested in making a name for himself.

            Case in point, The Eastern Airline bankruptcy. Eastern was in such bad shape that there was never a chance that it would exit bankruptcy as an intact, viable company.
            The trustee used his power to void contracts and usurp the rights of lenders to keep Eastern running, and bleeding money. In addition, in an attempt to regain market share, the trustee dropped Eastern’s ticket prices to a point where even if every plane flew full, the plane would still lose money.

            When the trustee finally gave up and allowed Eastern to be broken up, the remaining assets had little value, so the debtors got next to nothing, and all the other airlines had been bled dry as well from having to compete with a company that had no problem operating at a loss.

    • Sommer,
      Yep, that does make sense. Remember that all that ‘renewable’ energy and global warming advertising like that above is required by the California Public Utilities Commission. It is part of the bi-annual rate determination case. You can bet the PG&E upper management would like to dump all those stupid ‘environmental’ contracts and be allowed to get back to normal power distribution and maintenance.

  3. Utility electric service is always run overhead on poles or buried underground. Both are very expensive.

    Silly question – why not just run it on the ground in rural and forest areas? Obviously you have to bury it for road, RR, river crossings, etc.

    Whatever grounding protections and armor/conduit that you run below ground should be sufficient to run on the surface. I would assume the idiots that cut buried lines while excavating would be less likely to hit a line they could see at the surface.

    • Maybe using “skyhooks” would work better than laying it on the ground where the armadillos will trip over it.

    • It costs approximately $3 million per mile to convert underground electric distribution lines so probably a little less for your idea. PG&E has 106,681 circuit miles of distribution so that is $320 Billion dollars.
      3,000,000 x 106,681 = 320,043,000,000

      • Why would you go to the ridiculous extreme? how about investing in technology to ensure rapid disconnection in failure, go underground into premises, properly maintain power lines, clear vegetation near power lines. California is not special and different, all these lessons have already been learnt in other countries (and probably other US States)

        • I asked the same question – PG&E Hydro, North Fork Feather River CA. Been there? Rugged to the extreme. The Camp Fire started in the canyon nearer to the valley than the actual Hydo locations. Steel tower transmission lines in this canyon. Near the fire – some less than 100% slope (45degree =100 %) but more than dozer operating/65%+-. 100% Slope is equivalent to 30 MPH wind.

          Shutting down the Hydro-Electric is not an eye blink. Each generator needs to be replaced – watt output in a systematic sequence to avoid 1.-damage to the generator, 2. Adequate back-filling (other source) to avoid brown-black Outs. Done all the time during routine maintenance schedules and or peak demand/Hydro.

          Follow up question – How are Under-ground Transmission lines cooled.

          • Also long underground/on surface conduit has a capacitance problem and can’t be used for more than a short distance. As Fred pointed out rapid shutdown of high voltage lines (115kV) isn’t possible, it’s not the same as switching of 110V circuits.

    • Underground line is not expensive to bury, it’s expensive to service/repair. That wouldn’t change by laying it on the ground because it would still have to be sleeved in heavy conduit (because ground), and still need service junctions every few hundred feet (manholes) for replacing bad/old sections. A Big Truck with a Big Reel of baseball size line can only about 500′ per reel, and 300′ of the softball size..

    • And there are far too many idiots around who would try to steal the cable, or try to get free electricity from it, or cut it just for the hell of it.

      Just think of all those nutters some while ago who tried to steal gas from a pierced and spouting pipeline in Mexico.

    • There are many good reasons cables must be protected by routing below ground or high above on transmission towers or utility poles. For one, cable laid directly on the ground is a violation of both the National Electrical Code and the National Electric Safety Code, which require cables to be buried at least 42 inches below ground. For another, galvanized steel conduit laid on the ground will quickly rust away and expose the high voltage cable insulation to damage by water, rodents, etc., and plastic raceway is even more vulnerable. Exposed cable on the ground becomes just a long chew toy for bears, beavers, porcupines and other woodland friends. When the insulation is damaged, the resulting short circuit frequently results in a high-energy arc which in a wooded area will vaporize any gnawing critter and ignite nearby vegetation, resulting in brushfires and other property damage. And then there are the issues of road, railway and river crossings, possible vandalism of exposed cables, and so on. It may sound like a good way to save costs, but electrical cables are routed the way they are for a number of very good engineering reasons.

      • Capacitance causes current to flow even when no load is connected to the cable. This is called “line charging current”.
        Underground line capacitance for power cables is far higher than overhead line capacitance.
        Wires are closer to each other
        Wires are closer to the earth (within a few inches).
        Underground lines have 20-75 times the line charging current that an overhead line has (depending on line voltage).
        If a line is long enough the charging current could be equal to the total amount of current the line can carry. This will severely limit its ability to deliver power.
        A typical 345,000V transmission line will be able to deliver no power when the line becomes about 26 miles long.
        The longest underground circuits at 230,000 or 345,000V are 20 miles long.

  4. Start the watch list for climate change misdirection plays following the Jerry Brown playbook to stick it to American taxpayers for California benefit.

  5. Nobody in their right mind will expose capital to expropriation by California ambulance chasers, demagogic pols like (fortunately now ex-)Governor Moonbeam, believers in perpetual motion or climate nutters.

    • Is it any wonder why the tort bar is such a big supporter of the Democratic Party?
      The tobacco and asbestos pay-outs are almost depleted. The ADA access sue-and-settle hustle has pretty much been played out. Lawyers trying to sue for Climate Change damages against big oil will go nowhere. Fortunately, the gun industry and NRA saw the tend and got an indemnity federal law to stop Democrats and their tort bar friends from cashing in and putting legal manufacturing and retail businesses selling perfectly functioning devices out of business.

      The Democratic Party is nothing more than the political arm of organized racketeering made legal by the laws they enact.

  6. PG&E (of Erin Brockovich fame) makes a prefect scapegoat for decades of egregious forest non-management for state and federal authorities.

  7. What PG&E really needs is different regulators. I don’t see how anyone could meet the requirements of Calizuela in the real world.

  8. The electric vehicle push led by California is the spark for the next disaster of unintended consequences when car companies impelled to comply with California market demands lose sight of their own financial perils and force unwanted products at high prices on U.S. consumers. The unintended consequences then snowball into car company bankruptcies and federal bailout with American taxpayer money and other stimulus schemes like Shove Ready Renewables programs etc. That’s where the new carbon tax comes in from a late night vote in Congress.

    • “Shove Ready Renewables programs.”

      A Freudian slip perhaps?? A great one, by the way! “Shove” ready about describes it, and I need not tell you where they’ll be looking to shove it – right down our throats – but we need to be telling them where to “shove” them (that being the opposite end).

  9. I wonder if the judge realizes that if his rulling results in electricity prices spiking by a factor of five, people will die – or if he cares.

    • “I wonder if the judge realizes that if his rulling results in electricity prices spiking by a factor of five”

      Probably. Judge Alsup is known for being pretty sophisticated. He was the judge in Oracle vs Google and was also the judge who threw out the climate-change lawsuit against Exxon-Mobile.

      Quite possibly Alsup is constrained by the letter of California’s laws. My impression is that the laws under which PG&E operates are basically nuts — which may very well be the reason why the management is giving up and letting the bankruptcy courts sort things out.

  10. Having been closely involved in the Camp Fire aftermath, we learned that the people of Paradise, Magalia, and Concow were told a decade ago following a previous fire of specific things that needed to be done to reduce the risks of an inevitable future fire. They tried a few of the recommendations (such as widening the road into town). but then reversed them because folks complained. Clearing of dense underbrush and control burns were inadequately done, if at all.

    Further, the investigations into the cause and spark point of the Tubbs fire the previous year concluded PG&E was not at fault. It was a private land owner who refused PG&E’s assistance regarding his connection to the grid. Despite that, the attorneys who brought the lawsuits against PG&E that led to the bankruptcy filing are still moving ahead with the lawsuits.

    • Lawyers have rigged the system so that an entity that is 1% at fault for the problem can be forced to shoulder 100% of the cost, if the those who are more responsible have no money.

  11. The U.S. needs to divest itself of California. Give it back to Mexico and build the wall from Texas to Oregon, for now. Don’t know if we should keep Oregon and Washington or not, since they won’t let us use their ports to ship coal. Need to think about that one.

    • We need an electricity firewall around Cali so it can’t drive up the price of electricity nation-wide. They need to be on their own on their own grid. They created these problems, they live with them, they solve them.

      • The only reason California has been able to conduct these experiments with its electric grid is because it gets a huge chunk of dispatchable base-load electricity from out of state. The dams on the Columbia and the coal plants at Four Corners, to name two big generators of electricity for LA.

        • Indeed, which is EXACTLY why California should be cut off from “out of state” electric grid generation, so that the hypocrisy of “reducing emissions” in California really being nothing more than “exporting emissions” to someplace where they actually generate USEFUL electricity can be quickly and clearly shown, and so that the fallacy of the idea that “renewables” can be used to generate electricity to the exclusion of fossil fuels can quickly be exposed, in order to limit the damage the Eco-Nazis can inflict with their mass stupidity.

  12. Investors in PG&E have paid all they have for the fires, which are more the result of poor forestry management practices than poor maintenance. Residents will be picking up the rest of the tab. One way or another, that’s the way it was going to be anyway.

    • Just to be clear, there is little doubt the fires were the fault of PGE poor maintenance. However, that they were catastrophic is absolutely the result of the poor wildland management practices as well as the poor planning policies regarding the urban/wildland interface.

      • Exactly, the rapid spread of the fire to Concow and Paradise was through the brush that had grown back in the area burned near Concow ten yers previously.
        The grand jury report on the 2008 fire made some very accurate assessments on the possibility of future fires, their recommendations were generally not followed.

        From a newspaper report 4 years later:
        “Four years later, we’re still cleaning up,” said Brenda Rightmyer, manager of the Yankee Hill Fire Safe Council.
        “A lot of new growth is coming in around large dead trees, creating a catastrophic-scale problem for us,” Rightmyer said. “We can’t see the trees on the ground that are hidden by growth. It puts a fire at a hotter level.”
        Rightmyer added that cleaning up from the 2008 wildfires will be “very long term.”

        “We’re looking easily at 10 to 15 years,” Rightmyer said.

  13. Why have investors bail you out when there are plenty of middle class taxpayers to do it?

    Why do I have a recurring dream where a mob in yellow vests drags politician after politician to a guillotine?

  14. So it seems now, that noone should want to operate a power grid in California… just too much risk of catastrophic liability.

    • Not Anthony, but I’ll give you my $0.02.

      He lost me when he started talking about “carbon” (should really be “CO2,” but I won’t be pedantic) emissions – the CO2 emissions will occur whether a tree is cut down as part of forest “management” practices or whether it burns, first of all. Second of all, CO2 emissions are a NON-issue anyway, since there remains NO EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE that CO2 drives temperature (or, by extension, “climate”).

      Forest management in the name of protecting lives and property is reason enough, we don’t need to include the inevitable genuflection to “climate change” nonsense.

  15. PG&E is a symptom. Keeping the focus on wildfire lawsuits masks the tremendous costs incurred by rate payers from the conversion to so-called green energy. A utility run on ideology just doesn’t work. Ask the folks in Venezuela how running an oil company that way works out.

    To those opposed to capitalism the bankruptcy isn’t is a problem. It’s a desired outcome.

  16. What PG&E needs is a CEO with the guts to state that if his company continues to be blamed for the incompetence or willful neglect of others than they just stop delivering the goods.

  17. I know, because I’ve spoken with them recently, people here who still believe fervently that last year’s wildfires were caused by atmospheric CO2 levels going from ~404 to 407 ppm. Although, to be fair, they don’t know what either CO2 or ppm means.

    They do mean well though.

  18. The bankruptcy filing may merely be a legal maneuver.
    I wonder if the bankruptcy filing has anything to do with automatic suspensions of all legal proceedings during bankruptcy transitions?

  19. Just closing all the rural power-lines would seem to be the simple solution. You want to live in an isolated location, you figure out how to get electricity.

      • Right Mr. Griffin, the economics of that simply don’t work, especially when you have to replace and properly dispose of the batteries every couple of years. That doesn’t even consider the capital outlay.

        I know from experience, something you probably don’t have as a birding specialist. I helped install a solar-battery system for our local observatory because ecotards wouldn’t allow extension of a power line about 500 feet from the shooting range in the hallowed sacred ground known as Bidwell Park. The system routinely fails to provide enough power, because efficiency deteriorates.

        But you go on keep dreaming that green dream with flowers, unicorns, and happy land.

        Meanwhile, I’m going to accelerate my plans to get the hell out of this green state of madness.

        • My Dearest Mr. Watts – Thank-you for that bit of insight into that enigmatic troll-like figure we all know (and love? Loathe?) of as Griff (old Griffy-Pooh, eh?). While I am (somewhat) ever amused at his constant/incessant touting of all things ‘green’, it still chafes my hide when he bellows from his perch Under The Bridge that proven archaic and therefore inadequate-in-a-modern-context energy technologies are the wave of the future, when they have proven out (again) to be utter failures in providing as-needed electrical energy for our modern industrial/commercial society. Also, regarding your plans to vacate Cali – where might you be considering as your new Land of Fortune? Texas, perhaps? I wish you nothing but Good Wishes as you sell your holdings and venture forth to Greener (pun intended) Pastures….here’s hoping that your Real property values will not soon be sinking before you are able to list and sell!

          All the best,

          MCR

          • Nope some solar panel installer or reseller or like from what I remember. So your basic corrupt salesman speal when he types.

      • I know the answer to this question griff, but I wonder if you know how much a battery storage facility costs? I’ll give you a hint: for a few days worth of storage, you could build another fossil fuel plant instead.

      • I guess you have never been to northern California Griff. The north coast is famous for fogginess. San Francisco has more than 100 foggy days per year and Eureka has about 30 fewer sunny days than the US average.

      • Sunny California isn’t sunny for much of the year.
        Places like SanFran and parts of N. CA, it’s cloudy more than it’s sunny.

    • The expansion of housing in an area surrounded by woodlands with no adequate evacuation routes and not even cleaned up from the fire that occurred 10 years earlier wasn’t a sound plan and was advised against by the grand jury ten years ago. It wasn’t so much the electricity supply to the town of Paradise that was the problem, it was the high voltage power lines running from the hydroelectric generators in the region.

      • ..unless a bidding war starts for generators. That’s another price term left out of the equation.

      • I have often wondered about the feasibility of onsite installation of small/suitably sized diesel or natural gas generators with heat capture on the exhaust for heating requirements. There are many applications especially in heating seasons where the efficiency and thermal storage (in H20 or physical mass) of the exhaust heat could lessen overall grid electricity costs paid by the user and utilize the associated generation and transmission losses by the provider. There are many applications where the need for electrical power and thermal heating would come close to balancing out. Power companies would likely balk at the idea and push for legislation to stop it.

  20. How can PG&E be liable for wildfires when the government in california has clearly said the problem was caused by global warming?

    • Not negligent, not liable does not apply here. The California courts have ruled that even if PGE was not negligent, if their equipment caused the fire, then PG&E customers are liable. If, or the other hand, they were negligent, as was the case with the gas pipeline explosions, the shareholders are liable.

      • An unholy union of “joint and several” liability with “strict” liability.

        “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
        Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

    • if they really believed in AGW why then did they not even try to manage forests effectively and ensure private holdings did the same?

  21. True, but no so fast as NextERA got the FERC to claim concurrent jurisdiction with the bankruptcy court, hoping to stop PGE from doing exactly that.

  22. We are watching as a parasitical class are taking over. Using the law as a weapon they can nationalize companies, utilities. Increase regulations, control, health and safety, health care.

  23. Is the reason for pushing electric vehicles really a way for electric companies to transfer paying customers from oil companies to themselves thus increasing their revenue with very little capital expenditure? Doesn’t the government have more control over utilities than private companies? ( if they don’t now they certainly will)

  24. PGandE is a creature of the California political environment.

    They bring their rate case to the PUC, the PUC says “Okay we/the legislature wants this ” and PGandE says “Okay, we’ll support that but our guaranteed rate of return is X so we’ll either have to take money out of or raise rates ”

    The PUC looks around and says “Okay, we want and you can take money out of to meet your rate of return.”

  25. Obviously power generation is too big to fail. It will require a shed load of money to keep going.
    Remember, Governments don’t have money, they spend the money entrusted to them by the tax payers wisely.
    I’m thankful that I don’t live in California or Germany. Mind you, over here we have the same lunacy with shipping wood pellets from the US to burnt in UK.

  26. The result would not have been any different IF the high voltage through those overhead wires that sparked against dry trees had been generated by wind or solar rather than fossil fuel.

    • Actually, if a higher percentage of the electrical power was wind and solar, there would have been more fires. Wind and solar are far more diffuse than fossil fuel power plants, so more power lines would have been installed. More lines = more potential ignition sources.

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