Death and profits: The utility protection racket

Linked with Michael Parenti Michael Parenti – USA. – Published on Online Journal, by Michaeel Parenti, Oct. 18, 2010.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is a multi-billion-dollar privately owned, publicly regulated utility whose main function is to make enormous profits for its shareholders at great cost to ratepayers. I know this to be true; I’m one of the ratepayers.

Better than Bernard:

The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) permits PG&E to charge rates that are 30 percent higher than the national average … //

… Pressed on the matter, they might admit as much. Steel magnate David Roderick once said that his company “is not in the business of making steel. We’re in the business of making profits.” The social uses of the product and its effects upon human well-being and the natural environment win consideration in capitalist production, if at all, only to the extent that they do not violate the profit goals of the corporation.

Better things to do:

Rather than spend money on replacing aging pipelines, PG&E — just three months before the San Bruno catastrophe — poured $46 million of ratepayer money (ten times the amount needed for repairing the San Bruno pipeline) into the electoral campaign for Proposition 16. This initiative was designed to make it neigh impossible for local governments to purchase energy from alternative sources, impossible to get out from under PG&E’s monopoly grip. The proposition was miraculously defeated despite the company’s immense campaign outlay.

With thousands of miles of aging pipes to inspect and perhaps replace, PG&E continues to find other things to do. Through most of 2010, it was busy putting “smart meters” into people’s homes. The new meters do not need to be read by an employee out in the field. Instead data from residences and businesses are transmitted by a mesh network of radio signals.

Critics argue that the smart meters are too smart. They often inflate electric bills. Worse still, they may be harmful to our health. There is evidence that radio-frequency exposure is linked to cancer and other diseases. A number of ratepayers already complain of being sickened by the heavy doses from smart meters. PG&E gives reassurances that the frequencies pose no great danger but it continues to face community resistance and skeptical questions from independent investigators.

Smart meters cut labor costs. Lower labor costs do not bring lower rates for ratepayers but higher profits for managers and stockholders. Never accuse PG&E of neglect or stupidity. The company knows what it is doing. In keeping with the essence of the corporate capitalist system, PG&E exists not to serve the public but to serve itself. (full text).

(Michael Parenti’s most recent books are The Culture Struggle (2006), Contrary Notions (2007), God and His Demons (2010), Democracy for the Few (9th ed. 2011), and The Face of Imperialism (forthcoming March 2011). For further information about his work, visit his website Michael Parenti political archive).

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