‘Disruptive’ PG&E Power Outages Will Likely Continue for Years

October 21, 2019 Updated: October 21, 2019

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has informed state regulators the company will potentially need to continue planned power outages for the next 10 years to help prevent wildfires.

CEO Bill Johnson said at a California Public Utilities Commission meeting on Oct. 18 it could be a decade before such blackouts are “really ratcheted down significantly,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In an Oct. 17 opinion piece, Johnson said said the company would strive to improve communication and technology over time to mitigate any harmful effects.

“We hear the anger about how disruptive it is to live without power. Losing service was a hardship for our customers, whom we do not want to disappoint, and it brings its own safety concerns with it. It also comes on the heels of tragedies in recent years that have eroded public trust in PG&E. We recognize this,” he wrote.

PG&E faced a massive public backlash for its widespread power outages in early October, affecting more than two million people in Northern California. The shutdown was due to concerns by the electric company that a windstorm could cause electric fires in the area.

Johnson also issued a public apology on Oct. 10 for how the utility handled its planned blackouts.

“We faced a choice between hardship on everyone or safety and we chose safety,” Johnson said at a news conference late Thursday, according to CBS. “I do apologize for the hardship this has caused, but I think we made the right call on safety.”

“Our website crashed several times. Our maps are inconsistent and maybe incorrect. Our call centers were overloaded,” said Johnson. “To put it simply, we were not adequately prepared to support the operational event.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom blasted PG&E, claiming that the decision to cut power to more than a million people shouldn’t be blamed on climate change, but on “greed and neglect by the utility giant.”

“What has occurred in the last 48 hours is unacceptable,” Newsom told reporters on Oct. 10. He listed problems such as school closures and people who “can’t even access water or medical supplies.”

Governor Newsom further urged PG&E to provide $100 rebates to residential customers affected by the shutoffs.

“PG&E has an obligation to the customers affected by the company’s inadequate preparation and failed execution of this power shut-off event. Lives and commerce were interrupted. Too much hardship was caused,” Newsom wrote in a letter sent to PG&E CEO Bill Johnson.

PG&E has been on the defense due to all the criticisms. Spokesperson Jeff Smith told The Epoch Times that the shut-offs are “completely dependent on weather conditions.”

“Should we see the weather conditions provide that increased risk of wildfires, we could potentially see public safety power shut-offs again,” he said.

A number of elderly and disabled residents who are reliant on electricity to keep their vital medical devices running are said to be at risk from the power outages. One El Dorado County man died minutes after losing power to his CPAP machine, although the autopsy listed the cause of death as severe artery atherosclerosis, and the coroner did not hold PG&E responsible.

Smith said that affected residents were given adequate time of the impending power shutdown to ensure their safety.

“We were able to reach out to them via text message call or email, whatever their preferred method of contact is to let them know that a public safety power shutoff was going to be forthcoming in the next 48 hours,” he said.

Despite complaints, Smith said the company’s decision to shut down the power to customers was justified. Areas within at least 34 counties were affected by the power shutdown, including Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Kern, Lake, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba counties.

“We heard from a lot of our customers and we certainly understand the public safety power shutoff create a little hardship for people, but given the choice between hardship and safety, we will always choose safety,” he said.