Update #2: So Far, So Good

Image: The poodles say, “Gosh, the air stinks! What’s burning?”

We have power back here at home, as do both of our sons. Our niece, however, is still in the dark. All of us may lose power again tonight, depending on what PG&E decides. Yet another “wind event” is coming tonight, and PG&E is trying to prevent more fires.

There’s a lot of anger at PG&E these days. There is no doubt that management there has bungled by deferring maintenance and paying themselves bonuses. However, something should be said about the whole business of dividends. Investors, including small investors as well as bigger fish, hold utility stocks because they are known to pay good dividends. (Click link for what those are.) So it isn’t just the PG&E bigwigs who have pocketed money that should have been trimming trees and undergrounding lines – it’s anyone who has invested in PG&E stock in the past decades. That includes many small investors, many funds in which small investors invest, and many funds that benefit people who don’t directly invest in the stock market — foundations that operate charitable funds, etc. (Full disclosure: I’m one of those small investors.)

This is just to say that as usual, Pogo was right: We have met the enemy and he is us. Or as someone once told me, if I point my index finger at someone, notice that three other fingers are pointing back at me.

We are going to have to look at our choices, not only here in California but also in other places where climate change is beginning to shift balances. Things that worked in the past are no longer working. Privately held utilities with stockholder owners may have worked in the past, but do we need a different system now? If we want the state to do more, who is going to pay taxes to make that happen?

Also, as tempting as it is to yell at the PG&E employee who works on the local lines to get the power going, remember that their family is likely in the dark, too, and they are not making a zillion bucks as they climb up utility poles. We can write the corporate offices to tell them how mad we are, and that will be much more effective: here’s their contact info.

I’m grateful for all the first responders. I cannot imagine being a firefighter; the dangers they tackle boggle my mind. I had a roommate for a while who was an EMT, and sometimes he would come home hollow-faced from the horrors he’d witnessed and assisted.

I am also grateful to all the people who have checked on me and Linda, and who have expressed concern. We really are ok, although I am cautious and like to say, “So far, so good.” Fire weather is still all around us, and I don’t like to tempt fate.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

4 thoughts on “Update #2: So Far, So Good”

  1. I am lucky enough here in rural Kentucky to be a member of a Rural Electric Coop. (Also lucky that we have no fires.) Coop electricity has been working since the 1930s. It can be done!
    Good luck to you all.

      1. I’m one county away from Louisville, where I work. My father’s family has been here a long time, and so I know that REA came in here in 1937 and 1938.
        I’m also a member of the Lexington food coop, after living there for fifteen years. I’m a great fan of coops.

  2. Yes, many small investors have historically depended on the usually reliable dividends of utility stocks. I’m sure we own some too. But the size of a dividend is supposed to be commensurate with the overall financial health of the company. Executives aren’t supposed to divert the money that should be going into the pension fund, or the money they withheld from employees’ paychecks as income or Social Security taxes, and use it instead to pay dividends to shareholders, nor should they have paid artificially inflated dividends by simply not doing the maintenance their equipment requires to operate safely. Which is not to say that the dividends were the biggest problem area; massive executive bonuses and activities that manipulated share prices were definitely a bigger issue. But they were also definitely paying dividends that didn’t accurately reflect their true profitability.

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