WatchSonoma Watch

PG&E exec: We have to earn customers’ trust

PG&E President Christopher Johns


A top PG&E official vowed Wednesday that the utility would improve its handling of several controversial issues and seek to earn back the trust of its customers.

PG&E President Chris Johns called 2010 “an extremely challenging, if not the most challenging year for PG&E.”

The utility giant was rocked by the September pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. Federal officials are investigating the blast, and critics have called for a wider inquiry into the upkeep of the company’s 6,700 miles of pipeline.

A PG&E program to install SmartMeter devices in millions of homes across the state, and an unsuccessful ballot measure that would have limited the formation of public power agencies, also have faced heated public criticism.

In an interview with The Press Democrat’s editorial board, Johns said the company would improve its cooperation with communities in the hopes of overhauling its public image.

“We’re not in the position to have our customers grant us trust,” he said. “We have to earn it.”

Ensuring the safety of gas pipelines is the company’s top priority, he said.

PG&E is inspecting the lines, testing and reducing pressure on some, and replacing about 150 miles of the network, Johns said. A short stretch of that pipeline is in Sonoma off Fremont Drive, a PG&E spokeswoman said. She did not have the exact mileage.

Johns defended the utility’s introduction of SmartMeters, digital devices that he said would help customers monitor their power usage and save money on their utility bills.

About 7.7 million of the planned 10 million meters have been installed statewide, with about 80 percent of installations now complete in Sonoma County, Johns said.

But fears about the devices persist. Critics say they spike utility bills and emit radio waves that are a health hazard.

Studies by the California Public Utilities Commission and an independent scientific group have largely settled those concerns, Johns noted. He blamed the continuing opposition on a poorly managed rollout.

“We could and should have done a much better job of communication with our customers,” he said.

As evidence of what he said was a new, more cooperative approach by PG&E on the issue, Johns pointed to a PUC-mandated proposal that would allow PG&E customers to opt out of the SmartMeter program.

Fees associated with the provision have rankled critics, however. The utility would charge $270 upfront, plus a $14 monthly charge or an increase in gas and electric rates, or a $135 upfront fee and a $20 monthly fee or increase in rates.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, called those prices “punitive.”

“It’s clearly designed to prevent customers from exercising the option,” Huffman said.

He pressed the utility to consider a halt to SmartMeter installations while lawmakers and regulators take up the issue. His own bill, AB 37, would give customers the ability to opt out of SmartMeters.

But PG&E and other utilities oppose the measure and Huffman said he may put it on hold in favor of the PUC’s parallel rule-making process.

“If this is the beginning of a new customer-based, community-based PG&E, that would be a good thing,” Huffman said. “They’ve got some work to do.”

Johns, meanwhile, pledged that PG&E would not stand in the way of any move by Sonoma County to form a public power agency. County supervisors last month approved a study that could launch that effort.

PG&E several years ago fiercely opposed the first such move by Marin County. The company offered cities money if they declined to participate and at one point threatened to cut off power deliveries to the Marin Energy Authority.

The utility also poured $46 million last year into a ballot measure that would have limited such public power ventures, requiring their approval by two-thirds of voters.

PG&E will press its case to remain Sonoma County’s main power supplier, Johns said. But, “I don’t think you’ll see us doing anything trying to change state rules,” he said about public power ventures.

The company made same pledge in Marin County, Huffman said. “And they changed course,” he added.

Local public power supporters said they hoped the company would hold to Johns’ word.

“I think that’s the right path,” said Ann Hancock, executive director of Climate Protection Campaign. “At this point I’m hoping they follow through.”

25 Responses to “PG&E exec: We have to earn customers’ trust”

  1. GAJ says:

    Mockingbird, ours went down.

    And I have absolutely zero kind thoughts for PG&E, especially considering their idiot CEO of just a bit more than 10 years on the job, in his early 50′s, walked away with a $35million pension.

    To say that is completely outrageous would be far beyond an understatement.

    Modern CEO’s have little shame.

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  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    All I know is that since my “Smart Meter” was installed my PG&E bill went up. I have NEVER had a bill of $190 before. I opened that envelope and my head nearly exploded.

    I hope Santa Rosa gets its act together and takes over the gas and electric utilities. It looks like, from other areas where there is no PG&E, the prices are significantly lower.

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  3. The Enviro Whacko says:

    @Skippy & Reality Check,

    The Fukushima and Gulf oil spill tragedies prove that “green” energy is almost always less expensive, if all of the costs including clean-up are included.

    Everyone should know that the cheapest and “greenest” energy comes from increasing efficiency – decreasing energy use in the first place – preventing the need to build costly new plants, facilities, grid, etc.

    We need to think about what we really want our legacy to be.

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  4. Skippy says:

    I will agree PG&E rates are high, but do the ratepayers have any culpability?
    Yes. A lot.
    Particularly the envirowhackos.
    Sueing PG&E to halt any and all dams, nukes, gasfired, and non-green(Red)generation plants has driven supply down while demand skyrockets.
    Gosh, what happens then, teacher?
    Get out your wallets, kids.
    For those opposed to the very concept of a gigantic corporate energy producer, try plugging your ipadipodiphoneibrain into the tide, or the wind, or the sun.
    Let me know how many bars you get.

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  5. James Bennett says:

    To Jason:I ask that question to myself often.We call this a peculiar colution between our Government and a corpoation, they call it a ‘Public/Private’ partnership.Many would call it the definition of fascism.

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  6. The Hammer says:

    Sounds like “Damage Control” to me.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Corporate America is not your friend. The sooner the public figures this out the sooner we can make changes for the better.

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  7. Greg Krouse says:

    This is a photo of a man with no morals. His lies and empty promise to serve rate payers are very demonic. He does not care. How he can deploy this Smartmeter system when it is causing folks to abandon their life time work to build a home and leave them so disabled and fearful.
    It is important to note that the expensive Shield study that simply looked at the meters did not examine the real problems. All of the issues continue and the CBS ch 5 SF report that got PG&E to do their job and look at one erroneous smart? gasmeter found it erring. Now the report of a fire in Santa Rosa caused by Smartmeters shows again and again, that not only is PG&E doing it poorest to provide us a safe system, but that the CPUC is complicit in charging us to prove the accuracy of meters that should be tested in pilot studies.The companies bench test them, but they are not working in situ. State Senator Dean Florez is correct in saying that PG&E is lying to its rate payers and the CPUC.
    Shame on the CPUC and PG&E for furthering this trespass on Californians in the name of the environment. Industry studies show no remarkable savings over simple informational programs. A moratorium is necessary to ferret out the problems and get this back on track.

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  8. GreedBreeds says:


    You bring an interesting point. However, we all know that government really has little power over corporations.

    Just think of this scenario:

    PGE Exec: Senator X, we are prepared to award you generously if you help pass a regulation.

    Senator X: Well, what is that? How will it benefit the people?

    P: You see, um it really does nothing but help us keep better track of power usage and therefore increasing profits. We are prepared to award all those involved in the success of this project if you catch my drift.

    S: I see, but would’nt that upset the people? I mean, aren’t their PGE bills high enough already?

    P: Ummm…yes, but if they think the government mandates it, then they will believe that it’s for their own good.

    S: I don’t know…

    P: C’mon, when has this not worked? Remember, we will award you generously. Yes, some folks may hate you, but you know that our country works 50%+1 and so therefore you know that as a politician you have to be prepared for some level of distrust and hate. And most of those upset folks will not even dare to take a stand because we have them watching American Idol and ladden with ridiculous debt! Plus, they will resist more the idea of going against someone who they think they democratically elected.

    S: Well, what if I don’t do it?

    P: We are prepared to take our contributions elsewhere and with someone who will cooperate. You know that’s a silly question, boy. But I admire your courage.

    S: Ok, I see your point. Bring in the SMARTMETERS!

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  9. Jason Valez says:

    The constant refrain ‘so customers can monitor their usage’ is tiresome. The smartmeters enable ‘THEM’ to monitor our usage. I don’t recall asking for a smartmeter or seeing the need for one. PG&E and the government agreed that we will have smartmeters installed whether we want them or not. Making PG&E the bogeyman misses the point. PG&E was required to put them on by the government. Smartmeters are going in all over the world right now. You can’t blame that on PGF&E.

    Public power companies won’t change anything except perhaps things will get worse. Then, as few as 5 people (board of Supervisors) will be able to require exorbitant amounts of renewable energy and raise rates through the roof. Will the government regulate itself as the PUC regulates PG&E, or will they be completely independant of review? Sonoma County with its fanatical pursuit of ‘green’ could use the opportunity to bring forth their green agenda without regard for the economic consequences to the people.

    The biggest issue though is that the effects on people’s health has not been properly studied and I know people who have had to literally move out of their homes to get away from their meters. Healthy people may not notice it but many not so healthy people do notice adverse health effects.

    Maybe we should ALL opt out and call their bluff about being charged $270 and $14/month. Would they cut our service if we don’t pay en masse? Are the people ever going to take a stand about anything? Or are we going to let them do whatever they want to us?

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  10. bats555 says:

    Iam not to concerned about the health issues of the Smart Meters as much Iam concerned about the system being hacked. If a kid from Cloverdale can hack into a Pentagon server (remember a few years back) then someone more sophisticated can surely hack and shutdown a grid. Google Stuxnet virus and you will find it set back the Iranian Nuclear program by 5-7 years. Guess what the Stuxnet virus is in the U.S. and if this virus can get into a Nuclear program you don’t think it could get into the Smart meter system? As currently this virus is morphing and doing things it originally was not suppose to.

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  11. On To Truth & Justice says:

    Problem is, PG&E did not and have not tested Smart meters for safety. The meters may be safe, but objective tests have not been done. They say its safe, therefore it is. “A poor managed rollout.” It was more like a PG&E managed rollover of the public.

    Why hasn’t PG&E turned their records over to the Feds? They keep asking for more time and no penalties.

    Killing three poor souls and burning a neighborhood is not something a people friendly open company does. Why weren’t the pipes checked before the explosion?

    PR may not be their biggest problem. Management seems to be a concept foreign to them.

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  12. John Hudson says:

    Reality Check: It is obvious that you are a PG&E troll. Nobody else would make the arguments you make. We know that PG&E attempts to control its opposition from the reprehensible actions the SMART meter guy took in spying on SMART meter opponents.

    The PUC is controlled by PG&E. PG&E asks for a rate increase and the PUC approves it. When I called the PUC to express my opposition to having a SMART meter crammed down my throat I was told that it was an “upgrade” and that I could not refuse.

    So now we have a PG&E troll arguing that Sacramento has lower electric rates because it is flat and urban. That sounds like a pretty good description of Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma and Santa Rosa. You have just told the residents of these cities that they can cut their electric rates in half by breaking away from PG&E and forming a public power agency!

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  13. Reality Check says:


    Why is it that some people if they can’t dispute the facts try to discredit the messenger?

    Oh, one more reason why PG&E rates are higher than SMUD. PG&E pays taxes, a lot of taxes. Government-owned utilities of course pay nothing.

    I guess people here think the solution to high prices charged by private companies is to have the government take over, run everything, and then all prices will be lower. Simple . . . . or maybe simple minded.

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  14. GreedBreeds says:

    Corporations always vow for massive PR campaigns when they screw up BIG time instead of finding ways to reduce costs to their customers or actually standing up and saying “ok, we screwed up. No bonuses will go out this quarter.” Chevron did it, Shell did it, Exxon-Mobil is doing it, BP did it, now PG & E.

    They try to give themselves a human face, in spite of all the inhumane acts they are responsible for.

    “We’re not in the position to have our customers grant us trust,” he said. “We have to earn it.”
    Oh my, how humbling! Ok, I give in, Im a sucker! NOT!

    Its up to YOU to decide if you take the bait.

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  15. Voyager says:

    “Reality Check” – Everyone in this forum knows you are a corporate spokesperson. Try being more covert like the people you work for.

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  16. Reality Check says:

    PG&E’s rates are set by the PUC, not PG&E. They reflect the demand that an increasing portion of our electricity come from “green” energy, which everyone knows is more expensive.

    Second, SMUD, Sacramento’s public utility, has the luxury of serving a mostly flat urban area. Serving a region with a high density population is far cheaper than the obligation of PG&E to provide service to rural areas, and do so at the same rate for everyone.

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  17. John Hudson says:

    PG&E’s electric rates are a major drag on the Northern California economy. I found an article on the internet by George Stasser, a lawyer in Frsno, comparing PG&E rates for 1,000 kilowatt hours. In Fresno, 1,000 kilowatt hours cost $241.93. In Sacramento, with a publicly owned electric system, the cost was $125.05; in Orlando it was $108.61; and in St. Louis it was $63.09. See http://www.greenfresno.org/profiles/blogs/pgampes-outrageous-electricity

    Think of the cost of PG&E electricity to a manufacturer of metal products or another heavy industrial user of electricity. High electricity prices impact the economy the same way that high oil prices do.

    The only way to get out from under the corruption and oppression of PG&E is to move toward public power. As the article notes, the cost of 1,000 kilowatt hours in Sacramento, with public power, is slightly more than half the cost of 1,000 kilowatt hours in Fresno. Do you think that Sacramento might have an advantage over Fresno in attracting jobs?

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  18. bats555 says:

    To Pacific Gas & Explosions: “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me!”

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  19. Dogs Rule says:

    HA! I will trust a bank first.

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  20. RobertWilliams says:

    “Improving Communications” is a PG$E Cover-up Theme For Screwing The Customers.

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  21. Inside9 says:

    If the Nazis had done a better job communicating with their customers maybe there would be world peace right now – a very jaded homogeneous peace with all people thinking along the same disturbing lines and participating unknowingly in numerous social and biological experiments.

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  22. pg&e is a joke says:

    u want my trust??? then tell my buddies who work for pg&e to stop bragging about their overtime pay and bonuses…and all the stuff they rip off out of your yard

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  23. John Hudson says:

    No utility in the country is as hated by its customers as PG&E. The fact that our bills are 50% higher than the national average certainly helps to engender that hatred. Then there’s the ballot proposition PG&E sponsored to require a two thirds vote to create a municipal electric company. Of course, let’s not forget what PG&E did to San Bruno. PG&E leveled a neighborhood and killed nine people without any of its officers going to prison. It has since been revealed that PG&E violated regulations designed to prevent such a tragedy. Then there’s PG&E’s attempt to prevent Marin County from forming a local public electricity service. Yes, PG&E deserves to be hated. PG&E is a poster boy for corporate capital punishment!

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  24. James Bennett says:

    You can earn my trust by removing my ‘Smart’ meter.

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  25. Dan Delgado says:

    Talk is cheap.

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