Lights Out For PG&E? : Planet Money How the once fairly-stable business of public utilities is changing.
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Lights Out For PG&E?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The Pacific Gas
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Utilities in the U.S. are generally private companies regulated by government commissions. With a dedicated customer base - everyone needs water and power, right? - and government protection and oversight, utilities seemed like a safe bet for most investors.

So many people were shocked this week, when California's largest public utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Company — or PG&E — filed for bankruptcy. Perhaps people shouldn't have been so surprised: it's not the first time PG&E has sought protection from its creditors, after all. The utility filed under Chapter 11 in 2001 in the wake of a power meltdown in California.

But this is the largest bankruptcy filing since the financial crisis, and the largest bankruptcy filing of a utility ever. PG&E says it was forced to take this step because of the damages it may have to pay after wildfires devastated parts of California, wildfires that some people claim were caused by the utility.

Today on The Indicator, how PG&E's woes show how the utility business is changing.

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