The long, sordid (ongoing) tale of California's biggest utility
A conversation with Katherine Blunt, author of a new book on PG&E.
Reporter Katherine Blunt was still new to The Wall Street Journal when 2018’s devastating Camp Fire broke out in California and she was swept into the biggest story of her career. Alongside colleagues Russell Gold and Rebecca Smith, she wrote a series of pieces on the ongoing travails of Pacific Gas & Electric, or PG&E, the utility whose power lines had started at the Camp Fire.
The Journal's coverage was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize, and Blunt has now expanded it into a new book: California Burning: The Fall of Pacific Gas & Electric — and What It Means for America's Power Grid. It is a rollicking tour through PG&E’s decades-long series of disasters and their roots in the early 20th century.
I am a longtime critic of utilities, but even I was stunned to see all of PG&E’s incompetence and malfeasance gathered together in one place, alongside its well-meaning but serially failed attempts to put things right. It’s a story of failure and redemption, except the redemption keeps being interrupted by more failure.
I couldn't put the book down, so I am eager to talk to Blunt about how the utility’s travails began, why is has struggled so mightily to take control of its fate, and what might come next for the electricity sector’s favorite punching bag.