How can California be left in the dark?

That is the title of my latest Bloomberg column, the inspiration for which came from an Alex T. tweet.  Here is one passage:

Economists themselves have been of no great help. My Twitter feed includes plenty of the world’s greatest (or at least best-known) economists. They love to debate Elizabeth Warren’s plan for a wealth tax, an idea that probably isn’t going to happen (just ask Mitch McConnell or, for that matter, any moderate Democratic senator). When it comes to designing a better incentive model for California power utilities — a concrete problem for which economics is remarkably well-suited — there has been close to complete silence.

Economists are just reflecting a more general failing in American political debate. The old saying that all politics is local has been turned on its head: All issues are now national in scope and partisan in nature. People are less interested in the day-to-day mechanics of actual governance, including at the state and local level. The comeuppance for those ideological obsessions is now upon us.

I wonder how much worse things will have to get before they become better.

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Isn't this related to the fact that America can't build or maintain infrastructure anymore? The incentives of our society gravitate towards tech toys and fake monopoly money industries not real things because that is where the real money is. Why would a bright, young person go work for the local utility for peanuts when spying on the public or selling opaque financial products is very richly rewarded? You and an army of economists can design a game with better rules but you won't attract the best players, only crony incumbents that "play" the game.

I was thinking about how to incentivize good behavior from potentially crony actors. How about we put bodycams and mics on the executives and stream it on the internet? We should be doing this for our politicians.

The By-Laws of all corporations should contain a clause empowering one shareholder, once a year to fire an executive and lead her/him out of corporate HQ.

With politicians they should be tarred and feathered, too.

California was hijacked years ago by socialist con men. They use bureaucracy and propaganda to con their minority voters to keep voting them into office by promising them free stuff. They keep raising taxes to pay for the free stuff. And now they are running out of taxes, free stuff and electricity. California is becoming Venezuela North.

Yup.

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The CPUC compels and restrains the behaviour of PG&E.

California Public Utilities Commission

One of the commisioners was appointed by Governor Newsome, all the others by Governor Brown.

https://www.cpuc.ca.gov/aboutus/

Gavin Newsome "Governor of California since 2019"

Like the state's infrastructure and risk assignment was all done this year and not over the last 100.

I wrote, "all the others by Governor Brown."

What's wrong with you?

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CPUC commision:

Marybel Batjer, President

Marybel Batjer was named President of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on July 12, 2019, by Governor Gavin Newsom and sworn in on August 16, 2019.

President Batjer previously served as the first Secretary of the California Government Operations Agency. In this role, she led forward-looking efforts to revamp the way the state approaches data and technology, modernized the civil service system, and led the implementation of key initiatives to green state government and promote renewable energy.

Before heading the Government Operations Agency, Batjer was Vice President for Public Policy and Corporate Social Responsibility at Caesars Entertainment Inc., where she developed and promoted corporate social responsibility policy and initiatives

"sworn in on August 16, 2019"

lol, why didn't Marybel rebuild everything!

Only you, looking for a strawman, came up with such a question.

California good! Government good! Mood affiliation good! Fight, fight, fight for team.

He's the mouse, this is what he does.

It's what you ALL do. For opposite teams.

Why are you so butthurt that I am posting the bios of the Commissioners of the California Public Utilities Commission that regulates and gives direction to PG&E?

You are clearly agitated. Am I getting too close to the truth?

You going with the trolling 101 tactic ("u mad?")....I'm immune to that.

And I'm not your boyfriend the 'mouse'.

We all know there is no such thing as one mouse.

Carry on then.

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CPUC commisioner:

Liane M. Randolph

Commissioner Liane M. Randolph was appointed to the California Public Utilities Commission by Governor Jerry Brown in January 2015. She formerly served as Deputy Secretary and General Counsel at the California Natural Resources Agency and was appointed to that position by Governor Brown in May 2011.

Commissioner Randolph’s portfolio and interests focus on long-term electric and gas resource planning, energy market design, utility infrastructure, and adaptation to climate change. She is presently the lead Commissioner for approximately 85 formal proceedings spanning the regulated electricity, gas, telecommunications, transportation and water industries. Commissioner Randolph leads the Integrated Resource Plan proceeding established pursuant to Senate Bill 350, the investigations into the future of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, Resource Adequacy, Climate Change Adaptation for California’s utilities, and major general rate cases, including Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Southern California Gas Company, and San Diego Gas & Electric Company. She is also the chair of the Policy and Governance committee at the Commission, and has spearheaded reforms to the CPUC’s Rules of Practice and Procedure.

Commissioner Randolph is an expert in government and administrative law. She served as Chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) from 2003 to 2007, where she managed a staff of 70 in the implementation and enforcement of California's Political Reform Act. Prior to her service at the FPPC, Commissioner Randolph practiced municipal law and previously served as City Attorney for the Cities of San Leandro and Suisun City. Commissioner Randolph obtained her law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she also earned a B.A. in History.

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CPUC commissioner:

Martha Guzman Aceves

Martha Guzman Aceves was appointed Commissioner at the CPUC by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. on Dec. 28, 2016. She has focused on issues related to fuel switching, broadband access, water affordability, access to distributed solar and various other energy and telecommunications issues. She previously served as deputy legislative affairs secretary in the Office of the Governor since 2011, focusing on natural resources, environmental protection, energy and food and agriculture. She was sustainable communities program director for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation from 2005 to 2011. From 2006 to 2008, she worked with Swanton Berry Farm on human resources issues including a new employee-stock ownership program. She was legislative coordinator for United Farm Workers from 1999 to 2005, working on labor and environmental issues. In 2010, she co-founded Communities for a New California, a charitable organization promoting increased civic engagement of underrepresented communities. Guzman Aceves earned a Master of Science degree in agricultural and resource economics from the University of California, Davis, and a Bachelor of Science in International Economics from Georgetown University.

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CPUC commisioners:

Clifford Rechtschaffen

Clifford Rechtschaffen was appointed to the California Public Utilities Commission by Governor Jerry Brown in January 2017. At the CPUC his key areas of interest include decarbonization, safety, environmental justice, and enforcement. Commissioner Rechtschaffen is the assigned Commissioner on several risk assessment, emergency management and safety proceedings, the transportation electrification proceedings, Renewables Portfolio Standard, the affordability proceeding, and the biomethane and renewable gas proceedings. He also co-leads several internal agency initiatives, including implementation of the Commission's Environmental and Social Justice Action Plan, the development of a more uniform and formal CPUC enforcement policy, and efforts to make CPUC proceedings more streamlined and accessible to the public. Commissioner Rechtschaffen serves as one of two Commissioners on the Senate Bill 350 Disadvantaged Communities Advisory Group, is a member of the Western Energy Imbalance Market Body of State Regulators, and is on advisory board of the California Stationary Fuel Cell Collaborative and the Financial Research Institute

Prior to joining the CPUC Commissioner Rechtschaffen served as a senior advisor to Governor Brown from 2011 to 2017, where he worked on climate, energy, and environmental issues. In 2011 he also served as acting director of the California Department of Conservation. Commissioner Rechtschaffen served as a special assistant attorney general in the California Attorney General's Office from 2007 to 2010. From 1993 to 2007, he taught environmental law, directed the environmental law program, and co-founded the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic at Golden Gate University School of Law. In 2005 he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia. He is the author of several books and numerous articles on environmental law and policy. He was a deputy attorney general in the Environment Section of the California Attorney General's Office from 1986 to 1993, a Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellow at the Marin County Legal Aid Foundation from 1985 to 1986, and a law clerk for the Honorable Thelton Henderson, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, from 1984 to 1985. He is a graduate of Yale Law School and Princeton University. He lives in Oakland and is a diehard Golden State Warriors fan.

I have to highlight some of this bio. Note the background in "climate, energy, and environmental issues". No doubt "energy" means "renewable energy".

"...Prior to joining the CPUC Commissioner Rechtschaffen served as a senior advisor to Governor Brown from 2011 to 2017, where he worked on climate, energy, and environmental issues..."

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CPUC commisioner:

Genevieve Shiroma

Genevieve Shiroma was appointed to the CPUC by Governor Newsom on Jan. 22, 2019. Prior to joining the CPUC, Commissioner Shiroma served as a member of the Agricultural Labor Relations Board since 1999, serving as chair since 2017 and from 2011 to 2014 and 1999 to 2006. Previously, she was Chief of the Air Quality Branch at the California Air Resources Board from 1990 to 1999 and as an air quality engineer from 1978 to 1990. From 1999 to 2018, Commissioner Shiroma was the elected director of Ward 4 of the Sacramento Utility Municipal District (SMUD). Commissioner Shiroma resides in Sacramento, and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Materials Science and Engineering from University of California, Davis. She was born and raised as a farm worker's daughter in the Acampo-Lodi area of San Joaquin County.

Well, at least that one appears to have some technical background ...

One wonders however if at least one guy with actual deep technical expertise / experience in power generation / distribution would not be a good idea, if for no other reason than to be able to access the utility plans and claims.

Yes, at least one has a science or engineering background, though none ever worked for a power company.

In general, the commision is heavy on social justice, the environment, and renewable energy. Power generation for half of a state of 40,000,000 people, not so much.

You can see the results.

This is not new. This goes all the way back to the beginning of the Brown administration.

The results were totally predictable.

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Free New Refrigerators from PG&E!

https://www.willitsnews.com/2008/10/31/pge-offers-new-refrigerators-to-qualifying-families/

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PG&E Assistance Programs, all part of the social justice efforts.

https://www.pge.com/en_US/residential/save-energy-money/help-paying-your-bill/payment-assistance-overview/payment-assistance-overview.page

Totally. Screw those people who can't afford to keep their lights on.

Now that's not very nice. California's highest in the nation electricity prices are a defacto regressive tax on the poor - they need our help.

As you know, California has the highest percentage of poor people in the USA.

We owe it to them to pay their bills, or PG&E should eat those bills.

https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/the-conversation/sd-california-poverty-rate-20180913-htmlstory.html

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Two points.

One, I doubt Red states have more qualified hires for these types of political appointee positions. This type of ideological political hack hires are common across the board. Federal is theoretically better but the professionalization led to a unionized untouchable workforce filled with ideologues. So I don’t know what a real solution would look like outside of easily fireable employees and managers/employees keeping a percentage of funds historically allocated but not spent.

Two, thanks for posting these. It’s usually background noise, and now it’s out in the open. These are the appointed experts who set all of the rules and priorities for PGE. This is not your local 7-11, this is a state mandated monopoly that answers to political appointees first and foremost and has no control over prices or operations. Sad that even technocratic California manages to hire political hacks. Not even one energy economist, when the only people on the board should be energy economists or long time energy company executives.

The most important thing is always the incentive structure. You get more of what you incentivize and less of what you de incentivize.

I don't know what the proper structure for a utility of this size should be. Our local water utility is a water district "owned" by residents of the district. We have an electable board of directors that sit for two years, then we have elections every two years and fire the bums if needed. The board hires and gives direction to the manager. The board sets policies and goals and rates. There are raucous, well attended, and long meetings once a month. There is a lot of public input, shouting, cussing, and some people get thrown out from time to time. When people get really pissed off they vote the bums out.

Water is a big deal around here.

"Whiskey is fer drinking. Water is fer fightin over." - someone

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This post/article makes me sad...and it's completely correct.

It could be solved very simply by requiring the PG&E board of directors and the state Public Utilities Commission to report to prison for the duration of any planned outages for normal weather conditions due to their inability to operate a safe network.

That would result in no planned outages, more fires, and a bankrupt utility with no ability to raise money for capital improvements to improve safety/reliability without huge rate increases right now for benefits that won't appear for years.

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Perhaps if the state hadn’t pushed costly renewable energy investments that have yielded little, PG&E would have been able to properly maintain and upgrade their power lines. Or maybe cutting down more trees Near power lines. Foolish, but I guess you’d say saving the planet is at stake. I guess you have to burn it in order to save it.

There's the resentful partisanship, right on time.

I don't see the partisanship, but resentful seems appropriate.

You wouldn't now, would you.

Hi mouse.

You are really squirming now, aren't you?

You really are obsessed with that guy. Not everyone here who doesn't agree with you is "mouse".

There are many mice, and their squeals all sound the same.

I know it must be painful for you. Every statewide office in California is occupied by a Democrat. The bicameral legislature has a Democratic supermajority. The Democrats own the state, and have for a long time.

The Democrats, via the legislature, governor, the regulatory apparatus, especially the Public Utilities Commission, have brought us to where we are today, but they want to blame it all on PG&E.

Dems bad! Reps good! Go Team!

I didn't say Republicans are good, though I don't see too many in CA - they keep their heads down.

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The California policy has enabled individual choice allowing customers to generate and store power and thus have highly reliable power without 100% of customers paying for highly reliable power they don't need.

You as a California resident can call up Tesla and order a solar roof and battery storage which will provide the amount of base power 24×7×365 you are willing to pay for.

This is exactly what Milton Friedman argued in Newsweek circa 1970.

Friedman argued then that utilities were forcing rate payers to pay excessive utility rates based on arguing excess redundant capital was required to provide reliability few customers required.

The argument won the day in DC eventually resulting in PURPA which favors individual choice in utility service instead of a big government dictated solution for all.

You are bitching because individual choice is not a free lunch

Around here, any solar system with grid tie-in automatically shuts off in case of a power outage, to prevent power from being added to the system while workers fix problems. At least, that's the putative reason. Solar power here is worthless as a backup in case of power failure, which to my mind is about all that rooftop solar is good for in Canada.

Is it different in California? Can you have grid-tied solar that keeps working when the power goes out?

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Or make PG&E liable for consequential damages, etc from the blackout.

And the purpose of making an already near-bankrupt entity liable for doing things to try and avoid repeating the cause of their previous legal liability is?

So one entity will consider both the problems and benefits of the blackout policy.

Right now, it sounds like PG&E gets the almost all of the benefits (i.e., no liability for fire damage) and almost none of the costs (because those are primarily born by customers). That setup normally doesn't lead to an economically efficient solution.

Judge Alsup instructed PG&E to turn of the power under these circumstances.

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I would be fine with the politics of California fires/blackouts remaining local, in the sense that Californians (as per usual) claim the unique snowflakeness of their state has made this turn of events all but unavoidable and as such I am perfectly fine not wasting more brain cells on hearing or thinking about it and leaving them to handle it themselves, locally as it were.

But alas, since they have a coast it is necessary to broadcast endless discussion of these problems back and forth over flyover country, not that the backwoods yokels residing therein should be anything but honored that Californians deign to make them feel important by allowing them access to these discussions (though of course not an opinion on the matter, as Californians know best).

The parts most affected are the backwoods areas of California unless you don't like those "yokels" because even though those rural voters may have voted for Trump they live in a blue state. In fact without backwoods that dry up every year, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

I like them just fine but they should evacuate the state before we build a wall around it. If I were them I'd leave my iron plugged in on the way out too.

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"I am perfectly fine not wasting more brain cells on hearing or thinking about it"

I am so glad you wrote up a long comment on the internet about how you aren't going to waste anymore time on this by wasting more time on this.

I said I would be fine, Captain Reading Comprehension.

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Silicon Valley Power, which is owned and operated by the socialists at the People's Republic of Santa Clara kept their lights on while the for-profit capitalists at PG&E with millionaires on the executive team had to turn off the lights. People tell me that SVP even charges 2/3rds the price of the other guys. As a libertarian, of which I'm one, what's wrong with this picture?

I'll go out on a limb and suggest that maybe, just maybe, supplying power to 52,000 urban customers with no forest in sight might be different than doing so for 100x as many urban and rural customers, and might not scale linearly. Or, as a libertarian, you can choose a politically-tinged explanation...

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The answer to your question is luck for now. The majority of Silicon Valley Power energy is transmitted through PG&E power lines. If PG&E decides to de-energize the transmission line, Silicon Valley Power lights will be turned off.
Silicon Valley Power safety costs are low because Santa Clara has low fire risk and their cheaper rates are supported by low maintenance PG&E transmission lines.

I wonder if part of the incentive problem is that it's easier to cut off a bunch of residential customers than another utility (with lawyers, that presumably negotiated better terms of service vs. the utility's normal take-it-or-leave-it ToS)

Federal Regulations (approved by FERC, enforced by NERC, administered by reliability coordinators) cover energy interchange between utilities (registered Balancing Authorities) and how to handle trade offs between safety and reliability between BAs. Contracts and utility decisions have nothing to do with it.

Thanks. That confirms that it's a whole lot easier to cut of the little guys.

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Possibly the city has less liability for wild fires than a for-profit company does? And maybe there is more alignment between the regulator and the utility (they're the same people probably?)

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Isn't PG&E going Galt? They want to show how valuable they are the same way unions do. By taking their ball home. Maybe the guys who run it think they should be paid more than those tech companies because tech without electricity is useless. The real estate guys already know how to make those tech companies pay. By making housing the most expensive in the nation. Now it is the utilities' turn. Make electricity and water the most expensive too. That'll show those tech bros who's boss. Everybody wants a piece of the pie.

They are limiting liability to preserve the tiny amount of equity left in the company and preserve some ability to raise capital in the future.

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Judge Alsup told PG&E to turn the power off under these circumstances.

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The power goes out when there's a hurricane, flooding, tsunami, blizzard, quake, or any natural disaster really. Are wildfires considered different?

No.

Even insurers and re-insurers put them on the same bucket.

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The power doesn't typically go out when a blizzard is first forecasted, in anticipation of snowfall.

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Yes.

It is one thing to have power disabled by a natural disaster. It's another to shut power down to avoid causing a disaster.

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Take a look at the power outage map and the fire tracker map:

https://poweroutage.us/area/state/california
https://projects.sfchronicle.com/trackers/california-fire-map/

The fire in the North Bay shouldn't affect power for the South Bay considering how far away it is and well, lack of actual fires. The equivalent would be the Getty fire way north of Santa Monica being an excuse for Southern CA Edison to shut down power for the whole of the San Fernando Valley but Edison was disciplined enough to keep it to just affected areas. PG&E doesn't look too good here.

I think the concern was starting new fires in windy areas , like the Camp fire last year. Hence the fire affected area will only be a subset of the Power outage area. Of course like evacuations in Sonoma county erring on the side of caution (to avoid deaths like in 2017 as the Sheriff said) , they may have over drawn the Outage area but its a hard decision.

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Power is being cut off in windy areas to prevent lines hitting trees and causing fires, not in areas that are already on fire.

Not true.

It's to prevent power lines breaking and the poles/towers falling over and thus power lines touching the dry grasses and shrubs beneath power lines.

Trees very seldom start fires if touched by power lines before the fault is detected and power tripped automatically. The fault detectors on distribution networks delay tripping to allow trees/branches touching the power line to move away as the wind gusts or snow load, etc goes away and moves away. Dry grass and bushes catch on fire faster than the fault interrupter acts.

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It is not just PGE the legislature over regulates out here.
California is the seventh most bankrupt state in the USA for a lot of reasons. The main reason being bad legislatures, legislatures with barely a sixth grade education. The state has been getting steadily stupider.

+1

The WSJ has an excellent article detailing the idiocy in Sacramento in painful detail: https://www.wsj.com/articles/fires-and-blackouts-made-in-sacramento-11572044500

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Totally correct, only you spelled democrat legislatures wrong.

Ha! You got 'em again, Dick! Demoncrats totally suck!

#MAGA2020

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Why didn't Lebron and the Terminator trim their trees?

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After the last major fire in northern California destroyed thousands of homes, those knowledgeable about California and this region in particular urged restraint in rebuilding, arguing that rebuilding would just be kindling for another major fire. These experts were ignored. Instead, local governments responded to the special interests that prosper from maximum growth and issued building permits at breakneck speed and at a density level even higher than before the fire.

Of course, this isn't limited to California. The Southeast has its own risks of destruction, hurricanes; indeed, the entire east coast is at risk of flooding from rising sea levels as well as from storms. Yet, growth in the southeast and along the east coast has never been higher. I watch in amazement at the growth in my sunbelt city, much of the development in especially vulnerable areas near the water's edge.

I am a long-time reader of this blog. Other long-time readers may recall Cowen's annoyance with the term "sustainable" (e.g., "sustainable economic growth"). I imagined that for Cowen hearing the word sustainable was like hearing one drag one's fingernails across a blackboard. I was somewhat sympathetic; after all, who knows what's "sustainable". Is continued rapid growth in northern California or along the east coast sustainable? Grima!

They allowed building on top of Houston's floodplains and its been consistently flooding since. In a sense we should be grateful that the people of Houston are YIMBYs but no better choice than a floodplain? California's NIMBYs on the other hand pushes more construction to fire-prone areas.

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We were fools. All around the world, the models we supported, Adgentina, Chile, California, etc., collapse while Brazil, which we mistreated, is resurgent, its economy booming and its stock market booming. We were fools.

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Here's an exercise for the economists. Buried power lines would reduce power-line-caused fires greatly. Burying them costs more, too much in many cases. Are the costs of these blackouts such that they could cover the cost of burying of the most-troublesome lines?

The question the economist should ask is, did PG&E have the proper incentives (including from it's liability insurers) to bury some lines, cut back the vegetation around others, and "do what it takes" to reduce the risk of such fires? And if not why not?

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Burying significant amounts of high voltage power lines would be extremely expensive. You can't just bury them directly in the ground due to heat issues. Which means you need conduits in concrete tunnels with vaults for every splice. It's really expensive, particularly in hilly terrain.

FYI, 230 KV is on the small side:

"Burying a 230 kV double circuit transmission line at a minimum would
require a continuous trench or duct bank at least 3.5 feet wide at the
bottom and 7 feet deep. ... Large concrete
splice vaults or access structures (see photo) are needed at 2,000 to
2,500-foot intervals. ..Underground high-voltage transmission lines have a life expectancy of 40+ years, while overhead lines have a life expectancy of more than 80 years. ...An underground 230 kV line costs 10 to 15 times the cost of an overhead line due to time, materials, processes, the need to include transition substations and the use of specialized labor. The proposed overhead double circuit 230 kV line would cost $1 million per mile. "

https://www.xcelenergy.com/staticfiles/xe/Corporate/Corporate%20PDFs/OverheadVsUnderground_FactSheet.pdf

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This is nothing more than an unintended consequence of Trump's war on immigration. By deporting the laborers who do the work of brush clearing, he made it expensive and impossible for companies like PG&E to do their work. BTW, zero response from Trump on this natural disaster.

You are right. And by keeping up welfare payments, he also made it more expensive. How about removing the illegals, and moving the delinquents from places like Chicago and Detroit to where the labor is needed. Call it national preservation corps.

We're not going to move people forcibly from Detroit and Chicago to do forced labor in California. This isn't the USSR and Stalin is not running the show.

Take the money you would have used on Welfare and services for immigrants to incentivize them

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Who said forcibly?

Give incentives!

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But part of the problem is the media. Why hasn't the medic been asking why PG&E made the very bad decisions, that can't have been good business decisions as they led to bankruptcy, that led to these and earlier fires? Or did they face some perverse incentives that made their decisions good for business but bad for everybody else? It seems like the kind of question a reporter who even half remembered an Econ 101 class would ask?

you missed a third choice: decisions bad for business, but good for executives and financial parasites

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Pretty good jab here:

"They [economists] love to debate Elizabeth Warren’s plan for a wealth tax, an idea that probably isn’t going to happen (just ask Mitch McConnell or, for that matter, any moderate Democratic senator)."

That's not really a jab, that's a deflation of a counter-Warren argument.

All the "scary stuff" has to pass Congress, and can be viewed as benign campaigning.

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"for that matter, any moderate Democratic senator)"

+1, He's pretty much telling his fellow economists to stop wasting time on the nutty candidate and her fringe ideas.

...in his usual garbled style, he's telling them to stop worrying and love the Warren. If she wins, her craziest stuff won't happen. Just like with Trump. The system constrains nutjobs. It had better, because it seems those are the only kind that can win the presidency.

You guys didn't realize how good you had it with Obama.

Obama was slightly better than average. But yeah he was miles above Trump, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, etc.

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Shameless signal to the Bloomberg audience to join your Twitter feed to see the statements of other economists.

+1 for marketing.

For those who did not read the post but only the (or my) comments, here is what I am referring to in the post: " My Twitter feed includes plenty of the world’s greatest (or at least best-known) economists." Alas, I do not have a Twitter feed. How do you buy a Twitter? What does it eat, Twitter feed?

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My personal favorites are when Tyler links to a post/Tweet that recommends his book.

Those are the very definition of self-recommending.

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One might compare this to the current Chicago teachers strike - where a bankrupt City is about to commit to higher current costs and deferred compensation they clearly will not be able to pay.

Bad judgement, principal-agent problem, and refusal to face reality is not limited to California’s electric grid.

To paraphrase, there’s a lot of ruin in a city, state, and country, but these folks are certainly intent on finding out just how much that may be.

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In the spirit of his column, I would like to challenge Prof. Cowen to examine an aspect of the problem that he may not find ideologically congenial, the role of executive compensation. Several commenters pointed out that paying PG&E executives large salaries and bonuses, regardless of the company’s safety record or financial performance, might account for some of the problem. To a layperson, this is obvious. To the world’s best known economists, who are especially well-suited to study incentives, this is just mindless populism.

The parallel is to financial crisis, where the best-known economists mostly rolled their eyes at talk of moral hazard before changing the subject to things they’d rather think about, like quantitative easing and NGDP targeting.

I know this is hard for a layperson, but here you go: in executive compensation a bonus does not necessarily mean payment contingent on good performance by some metric. It's meaning is defined in a contract, but its function is often to structure the timing and form of compensation.

"...paying PG&E executives large salaries and bonuses, regardless of the company’s safety record or financial performance" is a canard. Are you suggesting that you'll get better, smarter, more honest executives by cutting their pay?

And finally, in the spirit of your comment, I would like to challenge you to come up with an executive compensation structure that is better than the one you describe, and discuss why it has not been thought of before, tried, and found lacking.

Challenge accepted. How about: If wildfires caused by downed power lines result in: (a) more than X deaths; (2) the destruction of more than Y homes; or (3) a decrease of more than $Z billion in shareholder value, no bonuses will be paid that year.

Thats easy. Just turn off power to the most fire prone areas. Permanently.

It's likely that under the existing laws, rules and regulations, most of PG&E customers are a negative NPV.

That has always been true nationwide.

That's why government welfare built the powerlines to those NPV customers. Federal Rural electric agency followed by rural telephone programs.

Funded by Federal taxes on all customers. Currently the FCC set tax is $2.03 a month per residential line. My NH regulator set fee to expand Internet access is $2.97 a month per existing internet conndction.

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Sounds great, the entire management team will just quit because they have better opportunities elsewhere (this is the new management team that was put in place after the last fires). Who signs up to run a company when their compensation is based on bad decision making over the last several decades (both governmental and corporate)?

I don’t see evidence that the executives of failing companies are in high demand. Geisha Williams, who resigned as CEO in January (severance: $2.5 million) has not snapped up by another utility as far as I know.

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+1 for the cow

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You skipped the whole part about discussing what perverse incentives this may create... Or do you think nobody has thought of this before? Or that it comes with no problems?

Example: suppose (a), (2), or (3) happen in most years. Then the company has to raise the base salary of executives, if it want to retain talent. So the bonus' contribution to total compensation is decreased, and so is its incentive effect. Executives now don't care about the bonus much.

Example: wildfires caused by people intentionally downing power lines.

Example: (3) happens at a time of severe stock market sell-off. How much of the decline do you attribute to (3), and how much to market turmoil?

Now you try.

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>All issues are now national in scope and partisan in nature. People are less interested in the day-to-day mechanics of actual governance, including at the state and local level.

.... says the guy demanding open borders, while he works at a university that bankrupts half the people who attend. Very self-aware, Ty.

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So yesterday morning I was staying with a friend, about 5 miles from the Getty. My phone went off. It was an emergency alert, "prepare for evacuation." This was at 3 AM.

I went outside and saw the smoke. We turned on the TV. And we spent the next few hours watching really amazing performance by the fire companies. The fire expanded really rapidly from 40 to 400 acres, burning up very steep slopes, through very dry grass. All this happening 5 miles away.

I hike these canyons. Maybe I know, in a way an Easterner wouldn't, that they are dry, dry, dry. I have been all over the country and never seen anything to compare. Wet springs grow things, and then summer heat dries them to desert conditions.

They had helicopters going over the house immediately, and water drops going full speed in the dark. Apparently they use night vision goggles. And they just stopped the fire.

We think my friends house is okay, no longer in an area marked for concern as the fire goes the other way. As of last night the fire was "stopped" but Santa Ana conditions are expected in the next few days. That could push it again.

https://www.lafd.org/news/getty-fire

So I'm kind of short tempered with people who don't even get it. I saw someone comparing this to power lost in ice storms, or Midwest floods. Should Californians tell them how to suck eggs? Of course not. We don't have the same experience.

Maybe you've seen "dried flowers" in the store? That's what Southern California is like right now. Acres and acres of dried flowers. With a hot, dry, wind blowing over.

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As anon notes, California has a unique combination of vegetation, topography, and climate that makes it particularly vulnerable to wildfires during parts of the year.

It is particularly grating to hear people opine that we should just "thin our forests" or some other such nonsense. These aren't forested areas. They are, overwhelmingly, rugged, impassible hilly areas covered in bone-dry grass and brush.

That's true as a baseline. California firefighting infrastructure has gotten really good at fighting and containing those fires, at the baseline.

What's changed is that we've gotten hotter and drier, and we're starting to bump up against the limits of what traditional firefighting can cope with during our seasonal wind events (which are themselves getting worse).

The future, as always, has arrived in California a little ahead of schedule.

Mow the grass (my utility does it every year or two, but maybe CA needs to do it yearly).

If it's too rough for that, spray Roundup.

lol, we had to kill the State in order to save it?

Why not? At least the 50 years on either side of the power lines.

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"lol, we had to kill the State in order to save it?"

We're talking about large chunks of the state burning and the largest power utility cutting off power. Cutting the grass or spraying Roundup isn't a radical concept. But hey if your too environmental for those ideas then just enjoy the fires and blackouts.

?? They aren't cutting the power because of the fires. They are cutting off the power because live wires can *cause* fires... getting rid of flammable material underneath should make that less likely.

My point being that maybe aggressive efforts to curb the dry brush in the area would reduce the need to cut the power in the first place. It would make sense that CA due to it's unique conditions might benefit from a much larger than normal clear cut area under high power lines.

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You guys. Who have never seen the state.

The high tension power lines take great sweeps over uninhabited valleys.

These aren't near the ground, with some short clearance on either side.

Right, big transmission lines are not the problem, being a relatively small percentage of the lines, and covered by NERC regulations that govern tree maintenance that are subject to audits every three years and the potential for big fines. The issue is the much larger number of distribution lines that are close to trees and subject to a patchwork of inconsistent regulation and property disputes with landowners who don't want you to cut down their beautiful oak tree, as well as going 2 miles over treed hills to reach an isolated community. Inspecting and maintaining those tens of thousands of miles of lines, then hauling away the trees, is not easy or cheap even when they coincide with roads and there are no property owners holding things up.

The cause of the Saddle Ridge fire is still unknown, but it is known that it began beneath a high-voltage transmission tower owned by Southern California Edison.

I'm not sure there are enough events to really lay blame.

Note that about 10% of California fires start with electrical transmission failures.

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>Inspecting and maintaining those tens of thousands of miles of lines,

The same thing exists here, except the utility actually runs a brush cutter through every few years. I've seen it live; it's one guy driving a tractor-like thing down the line.

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Here are pictures of the actual area of the Getty Fire.

Note the picture "Looking down the steep section of the ridge trail." The wires are running cross-ways in that photo, across the chaparral covered valley.

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This picture looks like October-November, dried flowers.

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Yes. A dozen years ago I rode down the California coast in August and turned inland at Fort Hunter-Liggett. In ten miles I went from a damp, 65 degree world to the oak biome, just as you describe: 95 degrees and so dry. And in twenty more miles I was out in the desert, where the wind would only blow gravel around. A friend in Arizona, over by Kingman, pointed at the grassy ridges across the valley and said there'd been a fire, took minutes to go miles. The hills greened up and made lots of grass, right away. It's just gonna be like that.
In yesterday's discussion I thought Mulp had the thread winning point: we can adapt to intermittent power. But In between intermittent supply and uninterrupted demand is what we do next: grid disconnects for you solar panel types, canned food, books to read, many more generators, better grid isolation, roundabouts instead of lights... batteries....
And did someone mention earthquakes? California: it's not for sissies.
California: they'll figure it out...

'California: the survivors will have figured it out...'

Fixed

As of now, the fast and dangerous Getty Fire, which started at 1:30 AM, while everyone slept, killed no one and destroyed only 8 houses.

Actually it was amazing, when I turned on the TV at 3 AM the evacuation centers were open and an animal shelter was open. At 3 AM.

That's execution.

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Maybe you are all just used to house fires, that don't "jump" miles in Santa Ana winds (which can be 30 to 60 miles per hour, 80 or 90 degrees, and just 10 or 20 percent humidity).

And Tyler still talking about "cutting down trees." GTFO.

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We have had a quiet year, almost no fires, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. Winter now, and spring starts the whole thing over again.

The town I live near is rated at most risk of a catastrophic fire. Lots of interface residential areas surrounded by mature forest with substantial amounts of fuel ready to burn.

The 'solution' if it can be called that is no one will be able to buy insurance. An acquaintance who lives in a neighboring town is just outside the fire department area, and got a quote for $7k yearly fire insurance. They own their property outright, so are taking on the risk, but you can't get a mortgage without fire insurance. Three years ago there was a fire above us, 6 miles from town. No house sales could be closed for about a month and a half because no insurance company would issue a policy if there was a fire within 25km.

The solution? The house construction standards have already changed, with fire resistant siding and roofing materials, although they typically just buy some time to allow occupants to get out. But they can be improved further.

No trees within a perimeter of the house. This does mean cutting trees. This works, along with cut grass.

Ultimately it is about people not living in some places.

Yeah, it would make sense to zone a lot of these high fire areas to strictly limit residential construction and require high fire resistant standards.

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For anyone who thinks the easy solution is to just bury the lines, you haven't factored in the costs. Here's an estimate:

"The utility operates more than 134,000 miles of overhead power lines of one voltage or another across Northern and Central California. So while placing power lines underground in areas filled with flammable vegetation may sound sensible, it is far from cheap: It would cost well over $100 billion to do across PG&E’s entire territory."

https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Underground-power-lines-don-t-cause-wildfires-12295031.php

If $100 billion still sounds reasonable, you are probably on the wrong blog.

PG&E estimated its fire liabilities at $30 billion when it filed for bankruptcy. The company’s current bankruptcy plan would cap its liability at $18 billion, which is probably too low. Those figures don’t include any new liabilities arising from this year’s fire season. Paying $100 billion to avoid recurring liabilities of that size might be reasonable.

It's a complicated situation, with a government guaranteed monopoly and price regulation. We could say that as a "private company" they own all the liability. Or we could say that with all that oversight, the State shares the blame. We could say that stronger infrastructure should be paid for with rate increases. Or it could be funded by a State bond issue.

Or we could say the State "self-insures," paying to rebuild rather than over-protect.

I say "over-protect" because I think 100% uptime and 0% fire loss are completely unrealistic expectations.

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They don't have $100 billion to pay for it, and their customers won't want to fund it through tripled power bills guaranteed for some large number of years.

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"Paying $100 billion to avoid recurring liabilities of that size might be reasonable."

They have 15 million customers, though presumably they feed some power to other electric companies. But even if you assume a customer base of 20 million (half the state) that's $50K per person. So a family of 4 would need to cover $200K in liabilities.

That's about an extra $800 per month for electricity over the 40 year life expectancy of the new buried lines. Is the magnitude of the numbers starting to sink in?

When it comes to utility "customers" they are generally referring to accounts, not people served. A household is a customer, but so is a refinery, and all Walmart locations or schools in a given utility area might also be treated as a single customer. I wouldn't trust newspaper accounts to always correctly report the number of actual people affected when they start from "customer" metrics.

+1, That's a good point.

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@RatInALab

$100 Billion= 10^11
20 million persons = 2*10^7
$100 Billion / 20 million persons = $5K/person.

If you assume 33 million out of California's ~40 million are supplied by PG&E, then it drops to $3K/person.

It is hard to understand one would not simplify this calculation to 100/20=5. I assume some peoples eyes glaze over when they see big numbers.

Mea culpa, I just goofed the math. That does bring the results down to really high instead of insanely high.

Not so much glazed over as multi-tasking. And I don't routinely write my numbers and double check on posts like this. So my bad.

However, it still represents a very large amount of money.

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"It would cost well over $100 billion to do across PG&E’s entire territory."

Horrible!

It would slash GDP by at least $1 trillion dollars.

Paying $100 billion to utility construction workers would suck $200 billion out of the California economy at least, and it would kill low wage jobs clearing brush, fighting fires, thus creating high unemployment.

All the burying of power lines would be outsourced to Chinese factories, and would result in 25% in higher costs due to Trump's trade war tariffs.

The only people to benefit will be utility company CEOs who pocket billions in bonuses for hiking electric rates.

Him, there must be more reasons why paying workers $100 billion to build capital with 50-100 year useful life will impoverish Californians by killing millions of jobs and cutting GDP and consumer spending.

After all, paying more workers higher wages slashes consumer spending, according to every economist I see publidhed.

According to google "what puts ore money in consumer pockets?", only government can put more money in consumer pockets.

Definitely not employers hiring more workers and paying higher wages.

Yet another bizarre mulpian rant.

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Gavin Newsom kind of declared open borders when he invited the world in. The effects of that just might answer the question on open borders.

The real question is how many times does the rest of the country have to bail you guys out.

It should be 3 insurance claims and move unless you can afford to cover the cost. I’ve thought this way for a long time, because it used to be paying for Cali’s homes built on the side of mountains that seemed to slip-slide away every few years.

They choose to live there.

I’ve filed 1 house insurance claim my entire life and that was for a running toilet that leaked for hours.

"Insurance pricing" definitely ought to be on the list of things economists should be discussing with regard to the California fires.

That's complex, too. The risk is a function of government fire management policies, government land use policies, (lack of) maintenance by other landowners, etc.

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Sure. Can we do the same with Florida, the Carolinas, and the Gulf Coast?

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Not only are American academic economists falling flat on the job: little surprise to learn that American journalists have next to nothing substantive to say about anything.

Like many Americans I've been tracking the seasonal news of California wildfires with online reports, almost exclusively . . .

until this past month when I returned to my occasional habit of picking up the week's Economist at B&N.

ONLY from The Economist (not from ANY US news or media source) was I able to learn that PG&E, while California's largest utility, serves only 16 million Californians. We are hearing from NO ONE, therefore, about any fires threatening the grids of Southern California Edison or of San Diego Gas and Electric.

Nor have American (non-Californian) journalists said one word to Americans about the municipal utilities serving Sacramento, Palo Alto, and Los Angeles.

American journalists are AT LEAST as lousy as American academic economists in representing or responding to the California wildfires.

Have you seen any coverage / analysis of the PG&E service footprint vs the other providers in terms of fire risk - terrain, vegetation, population density, wind patterns, humidity, etc. ?

This seems an obvious question to ask, but I’ve not seen it discussed here.

Map here.

Not sure the question makes sense. PG&E has the Bay Area in its domain, but also a huge chunk of the Sierra Nevadas (PG&E serves Yosemite). So within that you are going to have very low density and high risk areas where it would be extremely expensive and low return to try for 100% uptime. On the other hand, you do want to keep power up in denser and more industrial areas.

My experience is in Southern California though, where our rare 'rolling blackouts" have come from too much air conditioning during heat waves.

Ha! On that map you'll see a funny little strip where the LADWP manages water and power on the eastern side of the High Sierras. That's because that's where they steal their water!

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Thanks for the map. That's interesting data. I'd guess one would have to do the risk analysis on a pretty small granular level - as someone noted, a few miles distance can make a big difference.

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Nope: celebrity-addled American journalists cannot tell us why the State of California (not any member of its loose confederation of utilities) is not itself responsible for controlling vegetation thriving in the arid conditions California has been prone to ever since its founding.

Poor utility management, unreliable service and massive service disruptions, perverse ignorance of well-known climatological and meteorological wind and rainfall patterns across the region: California has it all and is welcome to it all (including their municipal jurisdictions incapable of enforcing existing fire code restrictions [e. g., the Ghost Ship conflagration]).

(I wonder yet again how this PG&E-engineered fiasco is elevating prospects for northern California secessionists: no trusted celebrity journalist is alerting us to this phenomenon, either.)

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Los Angeles seems very old-school with their own LADWP.

"Water and Power," imagine such a thing.

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I live in the affected area and we’re seriously considering adding solar panels and a backup battery to the house. So are many of my friends.

I don’t think any of us would have considered this before the blackouts. It seems like, for maybe $50K, we can basically survive off of the grid. That expense didn’t seem worth it previously, but is starting to make sense as insurance against the power outages.

So the invisible hand of the market may be one of the solutions: the power companies could slowly remove power lines as people move towards self-generated power.

It also suggests something else: that the wealthy will start to exempt themselves from the consequences of the blackouts. The long-term consequence of this would be a further exacerbation of the haves-and-have-nots problem that plagues California.

That's up to you, but if you realistically face a couple off days every few years, a vacation is much cheaper. I don't know about you, but I could go to Hawaii a few times for $50k.

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Make sure you're allowed to have isolated solar panels while remaining connected to the grid. In my area the standard solar packages shut themselves off when a neighborhood is blacked out to avoid feeding energy into the distribution system that could hurt linemen making repairs. You lose your utility power you also lose your solar power. I'm not sure if the lack of systems that permit islanding your house is a cost saving measure or forbidden.

In most areas ( I have no idea about CA) you just have to have a main disconnect with an interlock. You have to turn it off before you can power your house from batteries.

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Diesel inverter backup generators much less expensive and more reliable.

Yep - I have lived in many third world countries with intermittent power. We had diesel generator back up. Not particularly expensive.

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This. Are generators heavily regulated in CA? I live in hurricane country and generators are a must have. Whole house generators are becoming more and more standard fare. You can get one installed anywhere between $4-12k

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A Tesla Powerwall 2 will cut your house off from the grid so quickly you won't notice it during a blackout. And during a blackout it is capable of charging from solar panels on your roof. Provided you are willing to be careful with your consumption one Powerwall 2 is enough for a typical household. It can run lights and refrigeration and -- if you're not silly -- even air conditioning. Note you will want a large solar system if your area is prone to long blackouts. (The longest I've experienced in South Australia was around two hours.)

I don't know what US prices are like, but I figure it might cost $10,000 or more fully installed.

Not that a Tesla Powerwall is the only option, but it seems to work and people are more likely to be familiar with it.

Just don't trust Tesla. Get everything in writing.

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The planned blackouts are new, but it's not like rainfall has changed. What's new causing this?
http://www.laalmanac.com/images/chart_rainfall_LA_1887_2018.jpg

Well, a bit less rain, but causing that much of a change? Seems like wildfire suppression would have gotten better in the past 20 yrs.

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From the above link, the averages rainfall is 11.7 inches. Under 10 is a desert. So many of the areas in Cali must be desert conditions. Don't move 10s of millions of people to a desert.

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Discussions of California's dry climate are out of place here, before recently it was never considered a reason for blackouts. What changed? Not the climate. The issue is entirely a matter of incompetent governance.

A rising population and more people moving to wilderness areas to live. Incompetence is already a given. That never changed then or now. Remember rolling blackouts under Gray Davis?

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I am an economist in the business sector. I watch academic economists as a hobby.

I am not sure what economics is good for, or what economists are useful for. They have sat out the major issues of our day, with exceptions. There have been academics like Milton Friedman who engaged the world, but most seem clueless partisans rooting for their side. And many just don't care, too busy playing with cute little math models that say nothing about the world. In some cases, economists are just making money off the system rather than improving the system.

You want examples?

(1) Think back to the good old days of President Ford, who was foolish enough to ask economists their opinions. He inherited the presidency in the middle of a severe recession with high inflation and sky-high oil prices. He convened a meeting of the most prominent economists in the country for advice and personally ran the meeting. They couldn't agree on much, and they talked about inflation but not recession. Ford called them back together later to talk about 10% unemployment rates. That arguably was the last gasp of Keynesian economics.

(2) Reagan pushed for his supply side tax cuts in 1981 with no apparent input from any major economist. Economists got into the debate only after the fact. Why weren't economists leading the charge?

(3) There was a huge deflationary shock in October 1987 with a 20% fall in the stock market. Reagan was pushed to raise taxes to cut the budget deficit. Is that the right response to a deflationary shock, according to textbooks? Did any economist have anything useful to say?

(4) President George H. W. Bush was persuaded to break his campaign promise. He agreed to raise taxes and cut spending, in the middle of the 1990-91 recession. Is that the kind of fiscal policy advocated by Keynesian economists? Or where they too busy cheering on the fact that Congressional Democrats rolled Bush?

(5) The late-1990s saw one of the greatest bubbles in human history, the tech bubble. With the exception of Robert Shiller, did any economists call it a bubble and advocate a proper macro response?

(6) The housing bubble of the mid-2000s was enormous and destructive. Again, with exception of Shiller, which economists called it a bubble, said it would crash, and the crash would cause a banking collapse? How many economists said that the Fed was too easy and fed the bubble? How many warned about the shadow banking system, or even understood that it existed? How many called the crash of 2008? How many are even sure, at this point, what caused the recession of 2007-2009, the biggest global downturn since the 1930s?

(7) Then there is Obama. Was the 2009 fiscal "stimulus" a well-designed program to lift the economy? Was the ACA the best way to cover the uninsured? Was the Waxman cap-and-trade bill a good program? Was Dodd-Frank a good response to the financial situation? Do economists have a clue?

(8) Looking forward, do economists have anything to say about "The Green New Deal" or a national minimum wage of $15/hour or about tax hike proposals?

(9) Economists are supposed to know about the allocation of resources. So where are the voices on water pricing, road congestion, public utility regulation, residential zoning, and infrastructure?

Economics, what is it good for? I can't blame the public for ignoring or dismissing economists when economists are some combination of indifferent, partisan, or clueless.

You forgot Volkner. Put us into a small recession in 82 to kill off the crazy inflation. That was a success.

I think TARP I was fine for the 2007 crisis for relieving the liquidity issues, everything after that was 'not letting a crisis go to waste'.

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"There have been academics like Milton Friedman who engaged the world, ...'

And he successfully changed laws and public policy to

First cut investment by utilities in redundancy to provide high reliability in order to increase profits by increased capital and workers to justify increase rates.

Second arguing successfully that businesses must maximize profit in service to shareholders, not serve worker welfare, not public welfare, not customer welfare. The interests of the public are provided by competition which rewards those firms/managers who pay the lowest costs (workers) while attracting the most customers, and by charity.

His ideas resulted in PURPA crafted by pols like Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter who signed it in 1979. The principles of individual customer choice in that law have been implemented in the Northeast and California.

California and the Northeast both have less utility reliability today than back in the 60s, but far more consumer choice to provide high reliability by paying extra for the level individuals require without burdening 100% of customers with excess costs for reliability 99% don't need.

In NH, sales of home generators are high, with builders of new homes commonly including backup power in the design and a buyer option at first sale, or as an add on.

In Californiaa, Tesla is marketing solar roof and battery backup as a high volume high, growth market. Reengineering Tesla solar specifically toward a new electric power model of individual choice.

A few innovators see huge market opportunity in California.

Problem: power lines. Solution local power generation with solar.
Problem: reliability. Solution battery storage.
Problem: embers catching asphalt roofing on fire. Solution inert roofing like tile, slate, tempered glass

Tesla is investing in those solutions, and advocating competitors enter this market, to grow the market faster and thus make demand increase faster.

But it does require individuals to pay to build capital. Which conservatives argue is bad because building capital drives down capital prices which destroys wealth.

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Quite a few people called the real estate bubble and predicted it would intend well. Heck, I did myself, and I'm not even an economist. (I put my money where my mouth was and just said no to buying a house in that period). What no one foresaw was the way the real estate collapse would metastize into the general economy.

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"I wonder how much worse things will have to get before they become better."

Is TC's plaintive, passive, "data-driven" concern here (phenomenal of the "faith in Progress" he is keen elsewhere to celebrate) justified by ANY recent measurements?

Without deferring to missing metrics from AWOL academics or know-nothing journalists: how much worse will things have to get in California before they become MUCH, MUCH worse?

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Unplanned outages in California can have an international impact as well.

The West coast grids are so interconnected I've experienced brownouts here in Alberta after something went pear shaped in LA and the overflow cascades back through the grid.

How much of the fire damage is from communities built in the last twenty years in areas that are / were high fire risks?

Population growth in California:

https://calmatters.org/commentary/california-sees-slowing-population-growth/

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I think the root cause is neglect in maintenance of the powerlines and the failure of proper clearance of brush and vegetation around such powerlines. Judging by what I'm reading here, the problem appears to be most of the people in the CPUC seem more obsessed with trendy stuff ranging from renewable energy to social justice rather than focusing on the nut and bolts of the energy grid infrastructure.

This is becoming a real problem in cities - civic governments more interested in changing the world than fixing the roads. Cities declaring themselves 'sanctuary' cities, frozen Canadian cities attempting to force commuters onto bicycles, 'climate change' programs that raise costs to no effect, etc. My city installed millions of dollars of bicycle paths while it neglected maintenance of its own composting facility until the building had to be condemned. Now they're trying to force every citizen into composting. Our roads are full of potholes, our taxes are going up constantly, fees are being raised and services are being cut. We can't afford to fix the roads, but we have a nice subsidy for rooftop solar installations - in a country that only gets 60% of the solar energy as say, Southern California.

But boy, we sure care about the world.

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Bingo!!!!

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I'd say the same applies to flint's water system a few years ago. If the localities and states of these kinds of problems can't get them handled why isn't it going up a level to be fixed sooner

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Alexis Madrigal's piece in the Atlantic is not bad.

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https://therealnews.com/columns/baltimore-is-one-step-closer-to-income-based-water-billing

Baltimore Is One Step Closer to Income-Based Water Billing
---
Repeat performance in Baltimore.
We will get the same as we get in California with electricity; no water much of the time.

And the knee jerkers will be on board blaming the evil water utility for the failure of social engineering.

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A compounding problem is you can't run air filters without power, so even someone young and healthy will wake up with a sinus infection. So expect a lot of sick day loss after the self inflicted disaster ends.

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"Finally, there is the news media’s response to these problems. On Sunday the New York Times published a story with the headline, “Up to 2.7 Million Face Utility Shutting Power as California Fires Rage.” It was on Page 25 of the print edition. "

There's part of the problem right there. You're quoting the New York Times. Not the LA Times or SF Chronicle, or the Sacramento Bee.

Local issues should primarily be dealt with by local reporters. Let local newspapers aren't anywhere near as strong as they used to be.

The amount of investigative reporting done by local TV and radio never was that much, and seems to have decreased substantially in the last 20 years with media concentration and internet competition.

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How to get out of the triple-bind of:

1) need cheap power
2) no fires
3) no disruption or blackouts?

A: Look for a white knight! Lololol: https://www.utilitydive.com/news/california-governor-calls-on-warren-buffett-to-purchase-bankrupt-pge/566038/

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