San Jose looking to build and maintain its own electrical grid, dumping PG&E in the process

At a late-morning news conference at City Hall Thursday, Mayor Sam Liccardo, (D) San Jose, said he and staffers have been working since May for an alternative to PG&E supplied power. Last week’s safety shutdown, which left 60,000 San Jose PG&E customers without electricity, sealed the deal.

“I’ve seen better organized riots. What happened last week was a disaster,” said Liccardo.

In an attempt to make the city’s power grid more resilient from shutdowns, Liccardo proposed creating a city-run power utility that would construct multiple micro grid generating systems throughout San Jose. The city would eventually take control of PG&E transmission lines, possibly though eminent domain.

“We expect to have more of these power shutoffs. So it’s really important that the city lead the way and invest in these technologies which we know can make our city more resilient,” said Lori Mitchell, director of San Jose's clean energy program.

PG&E sent KTVU an emailed response to Liccardo’s proposal which read in part, “…Our San Jose based facilities are not for sale, and to do so to do so would not be consistent with our charter to operate…”

But urban and regional planning professor Kelly Snider says the city taking over electric power is similar to handling other public health needs such as sewage.

“I don’t think PG&E is gonna do any better of a job providing fire safety and energy than they have been. And they’re probably gonna do a worse job from here on out. It doesn’t look good for them and it’s time for servicing the public to be the priority,” she said.

To fund this level of public service, the city would need to get a handle on costs. Millions to start, but quickly escalating into billions of dollars. The mayor concedes the taxpayers are in the crosshairs.

“PG&E has underinvested in electricity infrastructure for many decades. And to no one’s surprise, we’re all on the hook,” said Liccardo.

On the sidewalks not far from where Liccardo is making is grand push for change, some voices of support..

“It’s a public service, so it doesn’t have to be private,” said San Jose resident Chad Schroeder.

The mayor plans to begin polling residents by phone and email later this fall, and staffers will make their official presentation to the city’s Rules Committee October 23.