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Power for the People: How PG&E’s failures are spurring a movement toward electric cooperatives

Robert Raymond

It’s no surprise that northern Californians are disaffected with the investor-owned electric utility. They’ve been found culpable for gas line explosions, for some of the state’s deadliest and most destructive wildfires, for diverting safety money toward profits and executive bonuses, and — most recently — for a grossly mismanaged series of intentional blackouts that impacted millions in the Bay Area alone. But if there’s a silver lining to the PG&E disaster, it’s that — in the midst of filing for bankruptcy — they’ve opened up the space for conversations about alternatives. And perhaps one of the most interesting of these conversations is based on the idea of transforming the utility into a network of cooperatives: utilities owned and managed by the ratepayers themselves.

“The history of co-ops in the electricity sector is fascinating,” Johanna Bozuwa, co-manager of the Climate & Energy Program at Democracy Collaborative told Shareable. “They go back as far as the 1930s, during which a key tenet of the New Deal was to provide access to electricity by creating the rural electric co-op model that continues to provide energy today.”