PG&E is the renewable energy that keeps California going

Kelly Dawson
January 12, 2018
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It’s hard to describe California without eventually drifting into lofty narrations.

It’s a sweeping panorama of jagged coastlines and near-constant sun, a longstanding refuge for redemption and reinvention, and a setting of intoxicating innovation where egos and dreams collide. This place, for better or worse, is everything at once.

That’s at least in keeping with what native Californian Joan Didion once said, in which she observed that “things better work here, because here, beneath the immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent.” And while all of this is true of the Golden State, it’s also the romantic version of the story: California, in much more practical terms, is a place of resources and technology.

In near harmony with the state’s founding, PG&E has risen alongside California as the backbone of its early rise and a steady presence in its modern advancements. As boulevards were built and lined with gas lamps, and then as homes were constructed with full electric power, and later as customers became interested in renewable energy, PG&E has been there as a stronghold in California’s ongoing saga.

This is not as flashy as, say, the Pacific Coast Highway along the curved stretches of Big Sur, but consider PG&E as the flash itself. Its rooted prominence as a source of reliable energy has been the literal spark and fuel behind California’s glittering beauty and drive, and it’s only continuing to be a reckoning force in how the state continues to define itself.


Two years after California was granted statehood in 1850, Peter and James Donahue founded the San Francisco Gas Company, which was the predecessor of what became PG&E a half-century later. As is the case with most big companies, a series of mergers and acquisitions had to take place before PG&E became what we know it as today. So, we’ll gather some of our own energy and do our best to summarize it fast.

In those intervening years before the original company was incorporated, a handful of integral firsts took place to pave the way for expansive growth: its namesake city was illuminated by gas, a central station for electricity generation was built to serve emerging customers, agricultural water pumps were introduced, an electric railway system was formed to carry power from the remote Sierras into populated areas, and hydro systems were constructed to bring about the long-distance transmission of electricity.

As you can tell, a lot occurred before the Pacific Gas and Electric Company came to be in 1905 (it was primarily a merger between the San Francisco Gas Company and the California Gas and Electric Corporation). And that type of fast-moving progression didn’t necessarily quit. By the 1920s, the company introduces a home that’s completely outfitted with electricity, and in 1928, it discovers natural gas. These two facets become hallmarks of the following decades, as more rural communities gain electricity and a post-war population boom leads to neighborhoods strung together by power and gas lines. Later on, the infrastructure of these lines continues to expand, and eventually they snake through the Southwest and up to Canada, linking the once removed California to its neighbors with revolutionary pipelines that cross deserts, mountains, and valleys.

The last half of the 20th century is categorized by such highlights as the introduction of geothermal energy for electricity, which is sourced from Northern California geysers, as well as the statewide implementation of energy conservation in times of need. Furthermore, technological advancements in computers streamline processes, which allow for turn-of-the-century ideas to move into a new millennium. That brings us to the last few years, as PG&E’s fleet of “clean” vehicles and a “smart” energy grid — which both use the company’s standard resources as efficiently as possible — bring the company’s history of electricity and natural gas into the modern age.

Such a storied history is not unlike the state it serves: there were drawbacks, of course, and times of uncertainty in a legacy that spans nearly two centuries. But there was great progress, too, and the type of forward thinking that seems to be a cornerstone of California’s state of mind. Things better work here, and with the type of ingenuity that’s a part of PG&E, they often do.

(West) coasting

So where does a company that began in 1905 end up in 2017? If the company is PG&E, then it ends up with quite a reach. Currently, the company’s service area covers most of the state: from the Northern tip in Eureka across to the Sierra Nevadas in the east, down to Bakersfield in the middle and the coast in the south. A little more than five million customers can turn on their lights with help from PG&E, and about four million can use its gas to stay warm.

And if you’re a company with services that stretch over nearly 70,000 square miles, then it's a good idea to keep an eye on the environmental impact of it all. PG&E is committed to a long list of practices that promote sustainability in the homes it serves and the facilities it oversees.

Customers have the option to purchase all of their electricity from a universal solar program within California, without the requirement of a solar roof. And because of the energy conservation practices that PG&E put in place in 1976 — one of the first companies in the country to do so — efficiency programs, rebates, incentives, and training has kept almost 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from dissipating into the atmosphere. Partnered with its network of natural gas stations for electric cars, and customers can definitely show California some love.

On the flip side, PG&E’s own day-to-day practices are focused on a minimal footprint, too. It has sustainable utility trucks in its fleet and 15 new buildings that are LEED certified. Plus, given its history, PG&E is also addressing the impact of its longstanding sites with various restoration and protection objectives that promote safer, cleaner, and overall healthier settings. As a large corporation that has and will continue to make a lasting impact, PG&E is taking responsibility for its place in the state and acting as a leader in its environmental endeavors.

California dreaming

If it’s difficult to describe California without using grandiose terms, that’s because the state itself is far from simple. As a place that spans almost two centuries and a large piece of the country’s coast, it’s hard to expect it to be anything other than mesmerizingly layered.

But its need for gas and energy is to the point: these resources have been vital to California’s standing from the start, and PG&E has had an equally larger-than-life impression on its success. As the state moves into the future — and commits itself to protecting its infamous views — PG&E’s own promise to create renewable energy will be a part of making those objectives possible. It’s yet another facet of the state’s ongoing story, and a chapter worth waiting to tell.

There are more than 250 companies in our combined portfolios, and they are all making amazing advancements. From names you know, like Tesla, to those little gems you haven’t heard of yet, like Xylem, we want you to know all about what your holdings are up to. These ‘deep dives’ will help you understand what you’re invested into and how your dollars are making the world a better place.

PG&E is part of our Renewable Energy portfolio

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