Utilities: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses the incredible amount of power we give electric utility companies, how weakly regulated they are, and why they get such bad Yelp reviews.
Utilities: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 9 Episode 11
Aired on May 15, 2022

Main segment: Electric utilities
Other segment: Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, Eurovision Song Contest 2022
Guest: Jennifer Barnhart as Reddy Kilowatt

* * *

♪ ♪ ♪ ♪

[cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver. Thank you so much for joining us. It has been a busy week. Bongbong Marcos was elected president of the Philippines, we saw a pretty hot picture of a black hole, and the Eurovision song contest took place, featuring this spectacular entry from Norway.

♪ See where you’re going ♪
♪ But I don’t know ♪
♪ Where you’ve been ♪
♪ Is that saliva or blood ♪
♪ Dripping off your chin? ♪
♪ If you don’t like the name Keith ♪
♪ Imma call you ♪
♪ Jim ♪
♪ Wooo oooh oooh ♪
♪ And before that wolf ♪
♪ Eats my grandma ♪
♪ Give that wolf ♪
♪ A banana ♪
♪ Give that wolf ♪
♪ And before that wolf ♪
♪ Eats my grandma ♪
♪ Give that wolf a banana ♪
♪ Give that wolf ♪
♪ Give that wolf ♪
♪ Banana ♪

John: Yes. Every part of that gets a big yes from me. From the dress code, which can only be described as “werewolf applying for a loan,” to the sexy business minion backup dancers, to the fosse meets 2008 gaga choreography, to the lines “is that saliva or blood dripping off your chin”, the horniest lyric since all of “Montero,” immediately followed by, “if you don’t like the name Keith, imma call you Jim” which is pure chaos. That band — called “Subwoolfer,” by the way — understood exactly what Eurovision is for. As, incidentally, did the Latvian entry, which didn’t even make it to the final, despite having one of the best openings to a song in the history of music.

♪ Instead of meat ♪
♪ I eat veggies ♪ I like them both fresh ♪
♪ Like them both juicy ♪

John: I mean, come on. Are you not entertained? The Eurovision song contest is mayhem in all the best ways. But as much as I’d love to spend the next ten minutes talking about that, we sadly have to move on. Especially because this happened in Alabama.

The use of puberty blockers and hormones to treat transgender minors is now illegal in Alabama.

Yeah, the state’s transgender youth ban is now in effect and that means it is now a felony for doctors to provide medications to trans people under the age of 19. Alabama’s the first state to enact such a ban on these treatments. It’s punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

John: That is absolutely appalling. And look, there are lots of understandable reasons someone in Alabama might be criminally punished. For murder, say, or for running a Ponzi scheme or for creating this actual statue at an Alabama McDonald’s of Ronald McDonald reimagined as a giant boll weevil. But no one should ever be facing criminal punishment for providing healthcare to young people. This law was signed by the state’s governor, Kay Ivey, a woman who, as you can see, always looks like she’s saying “ham.” Here she is again, saying “ham,” and here she is, mixing it up and saying “ham, y’all.” Ivey was deeply committed to these anti trans legislation. Even making them a feature of her reelection campaign.

Some things are just facts. Summer’s hot, the ocean’s big, and gender is a question of biology, not identity. Here in Alabama, we’re gonna go by how God made us because we identify with something liberals never will: reality.

John: Okay, first, fuck you. Second, “summer’s hot, ocean’s big” doesn’t sound like the wind up to denying trans people their rights. It sounds like a children’s book the author wrote while hungover. “Summer’s hot. Ocean’s big. I don’t know, what more do you fucking kids want from me?” As for her point that we have to respect “how God made us,” do we? Really? Why? ‘Cause we’ve got too many holes, way too little hair, and necks — fragile lollipop bones that balance our dum-dum heads in one very specific direction or else we die. None of this is intelligent design. And while Alabama’s worst mee-maw might appeal to “reality,” the truth is, the major medical associations oppose bans on gender-affirming care, and with good reason — because it saves lives, and withdrawing it can be incredibly harmful, as this 15-year-old girl named Harleigh will tell you.

If I did stop my gender-affirming care, my physical outside wouldn’t reflect on who I was inside. And that would, like, completely destroy me mentally and physically.

John: Okay, first off, Harleigh, you seem great. You’re living as your full, authentic self, as for governor Ivey, if you can look at Harleigh or any child and comfortably say, “take away the care that gives them peace and a sense of self,” you are a bad person. In fact, the only good thing you could possibly bring into this world is if you were played by beloved character actress Margo Martindale in a limited series. It wouldn’t be easy for Margo, because she’s so universally beloved, and you’re an absolute garbage lady, but it would be unmissable tv. Now the rhetoric around these bills is that they’re designed to prevent — and I am using the biggest air quotes imaginable here — “irreversible harm.” And its supporters — and its supporters — like many transphobes — tend to fixate on the surgery part of transitioning, even though, for the record transitioning is far more expansive than that, may not entail surgery, and, as we’ve said before, when it does, is none of your fucking business. But when it comes to the children of Alabama, as a doctor told their state legislature just last year, it’s not even a factor.

Here’s what we do and what we don’t. Genital surgery is never performed on minors in Alabama. Puberty blocking medications are 100% reversible and can be lifesaving. Now, some older teens, not seven-year-olds, merit hormonal therapy. But initiation involves lengthy informed consent, lengthy mental health oversight, and the sub-specialized care provided.

John: Yeah, of course doctors are going to be thoughtful and rigorous when caring for their patients. Because, unlike the Alabama legislature, they actually care about kids’ well-being. But you can see why lawmakers don’t tell the whole picture when it comes to gender affirming care. Because a lawn sign saying, “ban lengthy informed consent, lengthy mental health oversight, and sub-specialized care” doesn’t quite have the same punch to it, does it? Now, the good news is, on Friday, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Alabama’s ban, meaning that the state is barred for now from enforcing part of its law, specifically the ban on access to medication. But it’s already working on filing an appeal, and the rest of the law remains in place. And you can’t help thinking that this whole thing is just right-wing virtue-signaling, sending a hateful message to a conservative base with no thought given to the pain it will cause. And no matter what the eventual fate of the law is, actual trans people and their advocates in Alabama have heard the message it was meant to send, loud and clear.

As humans, they’re afraid of us. It’s not really fun, but as long as it’s protecting their ideals, they don’t care.

I’m just a normal kid. Like, I went to hoover high school and I was in engineering. I played hockey, a little weird for Alabama. That’s probably the most abnormal part. Like, I’m trans, and what harm am I doing?

I want to know why you feel so comfortable dictating other people’s lives? I just need to know, not religion based, where the entitlement comes from.

To those senators and representatives who support this bill, thank you so much for making Alabama a national embarrassment yet again.

John: Yeah, he’s absolutely right. And to trans children in Alabama right now, let me say this. Y’all — am I saying that right? Y’all? I don’t think I can carry that off. You are important. I can’t imagine trying to build self-esteem in childhood as your own government attempts to undermine your very existence. But you should know, you’re profoundly valuable and you are irreplaceable. As for Kay Ivey, what the fuck is wrong with you? I know that’s a simple question with probably a long, complicated answer, but to put this in terms you’ll definitely understand: summer’s hot, ocean’s big, and the people of Alabama deserve a lot better than you. And now this.

* * *

Announcer: And now the delightful delight of Allison Hammond.

From the original Blade Runner. This is what they used. Attention to details. Fans will probably like that.

Are you a fan of the original?

Never seen it. [Laughter] I’m going to give you a quote that you have to let me know whether you think it’s Shakespeare. [Laughter] Look at that. Beautiful. [Laughter]

Why can’t you just pick it up? [Laughter]

Here are some other notes. Here’s one of them. This is “love you.” [Laughter] you are the baddest woman. [Laughter]

You know I don’t drink. [Laughter] and there you have it. [Laughter]

* * *

John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns utilities — specifically, electric utilities — the companies responsible for delivering us power, and also, giving us the creepiest mascot ever created: Reddy Kilowatt, a hell-creature who for decades, appeared in ads for over two hundred electric companies, like this one about him emancipating woman in the home and this one, where he tells a housewife, “don’t kill yourself, it ain’t worth it.” Reddy even appeared on children’s shows, where he undoubtedly gave a whole generation nightmares.

What’s going on here?

Ha, ha. You should know that you can expect anything to happen here, Mr. Toot.

Boy, I’ll say. Whoa, hey, what’s happening now? Those — those peanuts, they’re floating in the air!

That’s my new electrostatic generator.

John: Get out of there! That’s the only time I’ve ever been scared for a clown. We can’t actually show you the rest of that video, because — and this is true — if you watch it till the end, Reddy shows up behind you and brutally murders you. Now, you probably don’t give too much thought to your local electric utility. But if you do, it might be because they’re charging exorbitant rates for a basic human necessity, as this north Carolina pastor explains.

One of the founding members of this church, sister Linda Jones, she literally cut her pills in half, skipped days, in order to pay her light bill. God bless her soul. She passed on. And there are hundreds of people right around here who need that help.

John: That is terrible. And in case it bumped you at all, you’re right, that was a Property Brother you spotted there. He made a documentary about utilities and it’s actually pretty good, to the point you’re even going to see a little more of it later on. And if you’re wondering which property brother that is, I’ll give you a clue. It’s the circumcised one. And if you don’t know which Property Brother is circumcised, you’re clearly not that big a fan of the “Property Brothers.” And high bills are just the beginning of the problems here. Because utilities are also exceptionally prone to scandal. In fact, just google your utility company right now and the word “scandal,” and chances are, they’ve gotten into some major trouble. It’s basically like googling your local Jimmy Johns and “e. Coli” or the name of your favorite teacher from high school and “January 6th.” You’re not going to like the results that you find. And at their worst, utilities can even be deadly. Take Pacific Gas and Electric, one of California’s largest utilities. We’ve talked before about the 2018 camp fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history, and how it all started when this hook holding up a PG&E transmission line broke, causing the line to ignite the brush below, eventually decimating several nearby communities and leaving 85 people dead. PG&E has since paid fines and settlements, but it’s still very much in operation. Despite the fact that wasn’t close to the only scandal they’ve been involved in, as this reporter will tell you.

This is a company that, it was fined hundreds of times and faced more than $2 billion — almost $3 billion worth of fines. You know, if PG&E was an individual and not a corporation, I think by now they would be in prison. There’s just been repeat offenders. They’ve been on probation. They’ve violated probation. The problem is you can’t take a corporation and put it into prison.

John: Yeah, he’s right! You can’t. Even though many corporations clearly deserve to be in prison, from Enron to Purdue to any company that insists on talking like a sassy bitch on social media. Hellmann’s once tweeted, “you’re in their dms, we’re getting spread on their bread?” And why? You don’t need to do this, Hellmann’s. You can just be mayonnaise. But PG&E is not only not in prison; it is still supplying power to millions of Californians who have no choice in the matter. And if you’re thinking “how the fuck is that possible?” That is what this story is about. It’s about the incredible amount of power we give to utilities, how weakly they can be regulated, and the damage they can do. And let’s start with the single most important thing to know about utility companies, which is that for most of us, they’re actually the only game in town.

If you want to go buy an iPhone or any other kind of consumer product, you go out to a store and you have a number of choices. With electricity, in most of the country, you really only have one choice, and that company has a monopoly.

John: Exactly. In our modern economy, you’re supposed to have choice. Just look at all the streaming services out there. There’s Blockbuster 2.0, superheroes and old racism, anime, probably crashing on you right now, no idea, no idea, and until recently, news Quibi. That’s arguably too much choice. But utilities operating as natural monopolies dates back to the fact that, around the start of the 20th century, we needed to build a nationwide power grid from scratch, and that obviously required a huge investment. Companies were only incentivized to do that with a guarantee that they’d be able to operate in a noncompetitive environment. And at the time, that made sense. But those monopolies persist to this day. Mostly as for profit investor owned companies. Now, in exchange for giving utilities a deal that sweet, we did put some restrictions in place. The law says they should spend the least they can while providing quality, environmentally safe service. Which sounds great. Because it caps their ability to make too much money. But — and this is a huge “but” — there’s a carveout. Because when they build something, a piece of physical infrastructure, they’re allowed to then pass along that cost to you through your bill, plus an additional percentage they get to keep as profit, usually around ten percent. And this creates a clear incentive. The bigger the project, like a power plant, the more profit they make, as this activist explains.

Big monopoly utilities get a guaranteed range of a rate of return on their capital expenditures. So, like a waiter in a restaurant where there’s a guaranteed tip, the more that is spent, if you buy dessert or you get a bottle of wine, the more money they’re going to make.

John: Right. If your profit is pegged to doing certain things, you’re going to make sure you do those things more. Just like if HBO only paid me for every time I got weirdly horny for an animal… Except that’s actually a bad example, because the show would pretty much look exactly like it already does. Not now! Not now! I’m trying to make a point. Go away before I change my mind. Goodness gracious. And in the best case scenario, this might mean utilities are investing in infrastructure that is badly needed. The problem is, they can also be shameless in increasing spending, even when it’s not needed or on projects that are actively falling apart. Take South Carolina. When utilities there tried to add two nuclear reactors to an existing plant, the project’s cost spiraled. And a massive federal investigation later revealed that executives at South Carolina electric and gas and its parent company knew the project was facing major delays and cost overruns, but withheld that information in order to keep it going. Meanwhile, local customers paid more than $2 billion in the form of higher bills for a project which, by the way, never generated any power. And some working on the project at the time were troubled by what they were seeing. Just listen to a leaked voicemail from a vice-president at the parent company who later became a whistleblower in which she tried to warn her colleagues about what was happening.

They are mismanaging that project. And it’s at y’all’s expense. They’re doing it because they want to make money and they’re propping up earnings to be able to make their bonuses, and it’s going to be at your expense.

John: Yeah, that’s pretty shocking. Not just what she’s saying, but also that people still leave voicemails. Absolutely no one should be doing that anymore. In fact, every voicemail greeting should just be, “sorry I missed your call. Please don’t leave a message after the tone. Just text me instead because it’s not 1997.” And overspending isn’t the only way utilities’ incentives can wind up screwing over customers. Because they can deliberately stifle innovation that might make power cheaper or be a net benefit to society, as this solar power executive will tell you.

Now solar is becoming real. The utility monopolies are saying, “well, wait a minute, we’ve got to crush it before it gets too big.” They want to build more plants so they can make more money, and if we take a little bite out of that apple and we say, “hey, guys, we’ve got solar panels everywhere on all these homes, you don’t need to build that many more power plants.” Then the utility goes, “well, wait a minute. How am I going to make more money next year?”

John: Exactly. People putting up solar panels and generating their own electricity threatens the anti-competitive structure of a utility’s monopoly, so they’re obviously going to try and step in and block it. Who wants competition? It just makes things harder! You think I want to compete with “Euphoria” or “Love Island” or this YouTube video of ducks annihilating a bowl of peas? [Quacking] You could be watching that on a loop right now instead of watching this show, you idiots. Why are you still here? Make better choices. Some activists have even used rooftop solar as a way of challenging the monopolies in their states. Remember that church from earlier, where the pastor was talking about people cutting pills in half to make ends meet? In 2015, to help cut costs, it partnered with this local nonprofit, and in an attempt to challenge the laws on the books, the nonprofit installed a small solar panel system on the roof of the church, at no upfront cost, financing it by selling electricity to them at about half the rate that their utility, Duke Energy, charged. Similar arrangements are permitted in other states, but not in North Carolina, and Duke Energy pushed back hard, asking the state’s regulators to issue a cease and desist to the non-profit and invoke its power to fine them up to a thousand dollars a day for every day it sold power to the church. And in the end, Duke Energy got what they wanted. That church’s solar arrangement was shut down, and any hope of replicating it in the state was squashed. And when circumcised Property brother asked Duke about this whole saga, their response wasn’t great.

Faith Community Church wanted to test regulation in North Carolina by doing something that was basically illegal.

They were trying to pick a fight?

You could say that. They had a good setup to get publicity. This was an African American church, and we’re a big utility and we’re a target, and sometimes there are groups out there, they’re not trying to advance policy, they’re trying to get media attention and they did a good job here.

Are there situations where, as a human being, you have a conflict as a utility company where you’re saying this is how it has to be, versus maybe there’s a bigger picture with something that’s broken?

I think that’s just the way it has been.

John: Wait, wait. “Just the way it’s been” has, historically, never been a great justification for something still happening. In fact, there’s only one time that works as an argument, and it’s when you’re talking about the Milwaukee Brewers Sausage Race. Now, why do a bunch of sausages race around the field before the bottom of the sixth inning? Because that’s just the way it’s been. It doesn’t make sense, and may it never change. Long live the racing sausages. And there are examples all over the country of utilities getting in the way of people using solar energy. The argument being, if people start leaving the grid and generating their own power, then over time, the cost is going to go up for everyone left behind. And look, there is a longer conversation to be had about the proper way to bill people who use solar panels. But making it cost prohibitive is definitely not the answer. And if you’re thinking, “shouldn’t there be someone who can rein these companies in?” Well, in theory, there is. Most states have public utility commissions. They’re responsible for things like signing off on any big investments proposed and also overseeing the setting of rates. Unfortunately, many are badly outmatched by the utilities they’re supposed to regulate. This can have major consequences. A few years back, Mississippi power ran into massive cost overruns on a new plant it was building, which was initially expected to cost $1.8 billion but ended up ballooning to 7.5 billion. And in hindsight, there were obvious red flags that you’d hope the state commission would’ve been more wary of from the very start. Just listen to a company representative explain his side of the story.

Can you tell us why the project is over budget and also behind schedule?

I would tell you that if we made any errors in judgment at all, any missteps, is that when we took that proposal to the commission, we were only at between 10 or 15% of design. And so I think it’s — the little engineering that we had done at that particular point in time that has sort of come back to haunt us a little bit in terms of cost and schedule.

John: Wait. Let me get this straight. The plant was only 10% to 15% designed, and the commission let it go ahead anyway? That’s not how designing complex energy plants should work, that’s not even how designing Lego sets work, which is why you’ve never seen one called “a little tree and you figure out the rest.” Now, in Mississippi’s case, the problem seems to have been a commission rushing to approve a project without doing proper due diligence. But in other cases, like Alabama’s state commission, the problem seems to be ideological. It’s been described as one of the most opaque, politically motivated and environmentally hostile commissions in the country. Their commissioners are actually elected, and I do want to show you one campaign ad for the woman who is currently running it.

Twinkle’s priority is our priority: jobs!

We need more conservatives like Twinkle who put jobs first.

Twinkle is a proven conservative republican.

Who has stood up and fought the liberal special interest in Washington.

Conservative republican Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh. Our way of fighting back.

John: Yeah. That woman is named Twinkle. That is her actual given name. As in, when she was born, her parents were asked, “what do you want to name your baby?” And they genuinely replied, “Twinkle. Definitely Twinkle.” She even confirmed this herself, saying, “my daddy thought I needed a fancy name. It may be cute for a three-year-old, but it gets old.” And honestly? I could see how being called Twinkle could get old after awhile. But let me say this, Twinkle, for everyone who isn’t you, calling you Twinkle will never get old. It will never get old, Twinkle. And look, I’m not saying Twinkle is a bad commissioner because she’s called Twinkle. I’m saying Twinkle’s a bad commissioner because for one thing, when there was a push for more open hearings on electricity rates in the state, she outright said “I want to exclude the environmentalists from taking part in the process.” And suggested that environmental extremists only wanted these open proceedings so they could trot out their fancy San Francisco environmental lawyers and junk science hucksters. And it’s not just Twinkle! When one of Alabama’s other commissioners, Chip Beeker — again, real name, because it seems Alabama’s utility commissioners must, by law, sound like Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters — when Chip Beeker was running for his position, he wrote in an op-ed: “the so-called climate change crisis is about as real as unicorns and little green men from Mars.” Which is obviously ridiculous, because climate change is real, and unicorns do not exist. Sadly. Although if you’re in the market for a majestic creature with a lot of horn, this guy may be able to help you. And look, having a commission run by science-denying ideologues is bad enough. But in other states, public officials can appear fully in utilities’ pockets. Take Ohio. A few years back, a big utility there, FirstEnergy, was caught up in this massive scandal.

Ohio house speaker Larry Householder and four others have been charged with racketeering, accused by the feds of funneling millions from the energy company into a 501c4 dark money group called Generation Now.

John: Okay, first. “Generation Now” sounds like a failed ’90s boy band whose members are all now spokesmen for different cryptocurrency companies. But very basically, what happened there is that FirstEnergy funneled sixty million dollars to the speaker of the Ohio house, to get him to pass a bill, H.B. 6. That’s been called the worst energy bill of the 21st century. Now, I have to tell you. The house speaker in question denies wrongdoing and is still awaiting trial. But what’s very clear is that FirstEnergy was working very hard to influence the decision-making process. They actually paid the chairman of the state’s utility commission $22 million in consulting fees in the years directly preceding him becoming their regulator. And while he denies doing anything improper, I will point out that on the very day the bill passed, FirstEnergy’s CEO wrote to him, saying — and I quote — “H.B. 6, fuck anybody who ain’t us.” Which is very cool. And just so you know, the man who wrote that is this guy, who looks like he’s left lengthy reviews for multiple gas grills on homedepot.com. This man wrote the words “fuck anybody who ain’t us.” This old white man typed those precise words with his old white fingers. So to recap: our utility system largely consists of for-profit companies with monopolies over an essential service, building as much shit as possible so they can pass the cost along to you on your electric bill. And to see just how bad all this can get, let’s go back to PG&E, arguably California’s most hated company. In fact, a quick skim through any PG&E affiliate’s Yelp page gives you just a taste of that, because you’ll find reviews like, “absolute shit show.” “Fucking garbage company.” “Fuck you, PG&E. Your day will come.” And my personal favorite: “the actual technicians lovely. Often hot, too boot. Phone people: hit or miss. Either dismissive and stupid or thoughtful and kind. Corporation itself evil empire personified.” Which is a lot more nuanced than you typically find in Yelp reviews. Look, I understand that the lowest ranking, smoking hot employee that I interfaced with isn’t to blame for the company’s larger structural problems. But for the record, fuck everyone in the c-suite with a cactus. And you can see why Californians hate PG&E so much. In just one three-year timespan, it was responsible for around 1,500 fires. That’s an average of more than one fire a day. And at that point, PG&E are less a utility and more a fire company that occasionally also delivers electricity to people’s homes. And so many of PG&E’s problems stem from the way they’re incentivized to operate. Because remember, their profits are pegged to money they spend on new infrastructure they build, not on what they spend maintaining it or the area around it. And when you don’t maintain equipment, eventually it fails. That old hook that broke and started the camp fire was 97 years old. And it’s not even their only hook that was dangerously worn down.

This hook found a couple of miles up the line from where the camp fire started shows just how bad things got. A groove more than halfway through the metal from decades of grinding against the hole it hung from.

John: Holy shit. “Decades of grinding” isn’t exactly a phrase you want to associate with a vital piece of our power grid. It’s barely a phrase you want to hear at your grandparents’ 50th anniversary. I mean, you’re happy for them. It’s obviously what’s kept them together for so long. You just don’t want to hear it. And it’s not like PG&E didn’t have the money to perform basic maintenance, because in the five years before the camp fire, it issued over 5 billion in dividends to shareholders. Look, clearly, this isn’t a system where you, the customer, are going to be prioritized. If anything, the model only makes sense if the company’s shareholders are viewed as the customer and your bills are the product. And while you would hope elected officials in California would crack down on PG&E, many take money from them and don’t seem to see anything wrong with that. Just watch as California’s governor blows off a pretty pointed question.

PG&E was convicted of a federal — of six federal felonies in 2016. After that, you took more than $200,000 to help get elected. How should people trust you to be running the show to come up with the solution?

I, uh… I wish you luck with whatever you’re working on, but that’s a strange question.

John: Wait, is it, though? Is it? Because that seemed pretty reasonable to me. It’s not like that reporter asked, “Mr. Governor! Why do you think the wiggles had princess Diana killed?” That is a strange question. There was no big red car anywhere near the scene. But what he just asked you deserved a proper answer. And yet, frustratingly, if you live in California and PG&E is your provider, there’s nothing you can do. Every time you turn your lights on, you’re reminded that your utility has killed people, and the only real recourse you have is giving them a shitty Yelp review. So how do we fix this? Well, if we were able to start our power grid over from scratch, what we’d probably do is make utilities publicly owned and run by the government. It wouldn’t fix everything — things might still go wrong — but you’d remove so many of the worst incentives here. Unfortunately, transitioning now would be hugely expensive and in all likelihood isn’t happening anytime soon. But there are smaller steps we should also be taking in the meantime. For instance, instead of having a system where utilities are incentivized just to build stuff, we could incentivize them to work directly in the customers’ best interests, by investing in things like maintenance, renewables, and energy conservation. This is something known as performance-based regulation, and several states are already trying it. As for the regulators, look, commissions will, unfortunately, probably always vary in effectiveness depending on whether it’s staffed by people who give a shit about this, or, let’s say, someone named Twinkle. But we have to make sure that under resourced regulators get more support, more access to technical expertise, and more jurisdiction over the companies they monitor. And at this point, I’d usually bring out a mascot we made for utilities that’s representative of just how terrible and horrifying they are. But amazingly, I don’t even need to do that, do I? Because they already made a murderous hell-demon almost a hundred years ago, with Reddy Kilowatt. So all we need to do is bring Reddy back. So, ladies and gentlemen, I’m thrilled to present to you the glorious return of Reddy Kilowatt! Reddy? Reddy? Where are you? Where are you?

Hello, John! Hello, boys and girls!

John: Yeah. This is creepy. I’m already regretting this. Where’s the clown? Where’s Mr. Toot?

He’s dead, John. I killed him.

John: Of course you did. I’d like to leave. This is a bad idea.

Who said you get to do that?

John: Fuck!

The world is my monopoly. Your local utility is your god. I am your god.

Sb when I cannot believe I’m saying this but you are too good at representing how shitty utility companies r.

You have no idea. I could kill you right now.

What happened to the lights?!

Blackouts happen, John.

John: Turn the lights back on, you freak!

You can do it yourself, John! Just go ahead and pull that lever!

John: Wait, this one here?

Uh-huh.

John: Okay.

Uh-huh. Ha ha. I’m gonna get such a fine for that. That’s our show. Thank you so much for watching. See you next week for another episode of “Last Week Tonight” with Reddy Kilowatt. Ha, ha. Bye-bye.

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