The Lights Go Out and PG&E Rushes to the Rescue

TheStreet.com

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- How critical is the operational integrity of one power substation and what can happen if just one main transmission line is out of commission?

Residents of the Central Coast of California learned some of the answers Sunday, June 23, around 9:30 p.m. More than 145,000 residences from Solvang to Cambria were without power from an outage that utility company PG&E at first said was caused by an interruption to a main transmission line.

Early on, the news services reported that Santa Barbara County emergency dispatchers were reporting on Twitter that power lines were down in Santa Maria, the largest city in the area affected. Later, PG&E tweeted that an equipment failure at a substation had caused the outage.

At that point, I was again reminded about the power and influence of Twitter. It's being used to communicate more and more about emergencies and critical events. Remember the partial power outage at the Super Bowl in New Orleans in January? Millions turned to Twitter for the answers, but I digress.

Before too many of the affected households knew what had happened, PG&E crews had restored power to most of those hit by the weekend outage. Others, who had already gone to bed before the failure, awoke to an eerie stillness and darkened neighborhoods.

By the time most were getting up Monday morning, hopefully their biggest inconvenience involved having to reset their digital clocks.

To add to the ironic timing, while Central Coast residents were without electricity, stock markets around the world were plunging in shocking fashion. Not only did China's benchmark Shanghai Index shed 5%, but every major equity market in Asia and Europe closed lower Monday.

Once PG&E's affected customers were able to turn on their TVs, they heard that the U.S. stock market was also in correction mode, but not nearly as bad as China's. The last time I checked PCG shares, they were up down less than 1% on a day that U.S. stock indices were off almost 2% at the day's lows.

The utilities sector as represented by the Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF was also down a smidge, to $36.31, at about 1 p.m. EST. Although there is no correlation between the Central Coast power outage and the performance of the utility sector, investors are apparently hanging on to this traditionally defensive sector in the midst of heightened stock market uncertainty.

PCG currently has a dividend yield-to-price of around 4.15%. Shares on Monday are trading at the lower end of the 52-week range, between $39.40 and $48.50. The one-year chart below illustrates not only this but also how the company's quarterly revenue per share has trended.

PCG Chart
PCG data by YCharts

Frankly PCG needs some good news when it next reports its quarterly numbers Aug. 5. That consensus analysts' estimate concerning sales growth and revenue for the quarter that ends this month is for an increase of nearly 7.5%, with EPS estimated to be down about 8.6%.

Back on June 19, PCG declared its second-quarter 2013 regular cash dividend of 45.5 cents per common share. The dividend is payable July 15 to shareholders of record July 1. This evidently helps give shareholders a greater sense of security and safety in owning the shares.

Speaking of safety, the company is offering some summer and hot-weather safety tips at its easy-to-navigate Web site.

The operator of the infamous Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant that sits along the shoreline just north of Pismo Beach is offering "...time-proven tips to help customers be aware of summertime hazards that come with hot, dry weather and certain outdoor activities."

No mention of how to cope with power outages was included. In all fairness to PG&E, its handling of last night's blackout on the Central Coast and how quickly power was restored should be a source of some encouragement to its customers throughout Northern and Central California.

At the time of publication, the author has no position in any company or ETF mentioned in this article.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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