Your Electric Bill at Work

How Pacific Gas and Electric is giving clean tech a jolt.

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Behold the chicken-and-egg problem of renewable- energy technology: Not enough people build it because it’s expensive, yet it’s expensive because not enough people build it. Enter California’s old-school utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, which may have discovered a way to give clean tech a push. In April, PG&E agreed to pay approximately $1.5 billion to BrightSource Energy, which will build a cutting-edge solar plant to power more than 175,000 homes. The deal came with an unusual condition: PG&E will earn royalties on the company’s future sales. The utility is betting that by shelling out for the plant, it’s helping BrightSource reduce production costs and become a dominant force in the commercial solar energy market. The arrangement, in essence, turns the utility into a venture capitalist. If BrightSource pays off, says Hal LaFlash, PG&E’s director of clean technology policy, it’s a win for consumers too: “That revenue would offset future [electricity] rates.” In January, a major French electric utility announced a similar deal with solar manufacturer Nanosolar. If other power companies follow suit, the leading lights of green investing could be…your lights.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest