Leave it to PG&E, the least trusted utility in California, to make a mess of its power shutdown designed to prevent another catastrophic wildfire.
Safety, of course, comes first. No one wants a repeat of the deadly blazes of 2017 and 2018. But the utility’s plan for a massive shutdown of 800,000 customers cannot become the new normal.
Northern California is not a Third World country. If the Bay Area were a nation, it would command the 19th-largest economy in the world. It’s unacceptable that the region is being forced to endure this level of disruption as the long-term strategy for dealing with the threat of wildfires.
Lost in the concern over what residents, schools and businesses would be impacted is this simple fact: The size of the shutdown is an admission that PG&E has yet again failed to adequately maintain its power lines. Consumers should be outraged that the utility, a convicted felon, has subjected them to some of the highest rates in the nation and then routinely failed to meet basic safety standards.
The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E, should conduct an immediate investigation to determine:
lWho made the decision to shut down power on such a massive, widespread level (covering 30 different counties and 800,000 customers), and what was the process and reasoning leading to the decision?
lWas a more surgical shutdown considered?
lWhat is the utility’s approach to communicating shutdowns and to what degree was it followed?
lWhat percentage of PG&E’s power lines meet state safety standards? What is the location of lines that need to be repaired or replaced?
State Senator Jerry Hill said on Wednesday that the PUC gave PG&E carte blanche to shut down power to reduce the threat of a deadly wildfire. He notes that the state would have to accept some level of liability if one of its agencies vetoed a power shutdown and then a wildfire ensued. But he also called the shutdowns “excessive” and vowed to push the PUC to get to the bottom of the utility’s decision-making process.
Of course, that wouldn’t be necessary if PG&E had done its job and properly maintained its power lines.
The utility, for example, knew for seven years prior to the deadly Camp fire that the nearly 100-year-old transmission tower that caused the blaze needed to be replaced. But the utility failed to fix the problem.
That level of incompetence can’t become the standard for deciding if and when power shutdowns will be made in Northern California.
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