PG&E Claims Power Blackouts Helped to Limit Fires

December 2, 2019 Updated: December 2, 2019

A bankruptcy court filing from Pacific Gas &Electric (PG&E) on Nov. 29 claimed recent power shutoffs in Northern California helped prevent sparking on electrical power lines damaged by vegetation nearly 200 times, according to the Sacramento Bee.

During several blackouts in October, falling trees and limbs damaged power lines 260 times, while 190 of those instances were likely to cause sparks that could have started a wildfire, the company stated.

“In 2019, there have been no fatalities and no structures destroyed in any wildfire that may have been caused by PG&E distribution lines,” the company said, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the cause of one serious fire last month in Sonoma County, near a location where PG&E discovered a problem with a transmission tower, is still undetermined.

On Nov. 21, PG&E announced the company successfully restored power to all 50,000 customers across eleven counties that were affected by a Public Safety Power Shutdown (PSPS) that went into effect the day before.

PG&E came under fire recently when lawmakers questioned the quality of the state’s biggest utility company’s leadership.

Gov. Gavin Newsom accused PG&E of “greed” and “mismanagement,” claiming that the bankrupt company sought “to advance not public safety, but profit.”

“We are seeing the scale and scope of something that no state in the 21st century should experience,” Newsom declared at a news conference in October.

Two state senators also offered sharp criticisms of the company, reported AP.

Sen. Scott Wiener believes PG&E “forfeited its right to operate as an investor-owned utility.”

Sen Bill Dodd said that an Oct. 9 shutoff indicated “a big ‘screw you’ to your customers. … That has really created among the Legislature and among your customers a real trust issue.”

In an interview with The Epoch Times, Sen. Dodd elaborated on his initial comments.

“The PSPS program was really designed to eliminate power lines as a source of major wildfires, which means loss of homes, businesses and lives,” he said. “Power shut offs are one tool in the toolbox they can use to save people’s lives and save property. I’m not opposed to it. But what I expect is execution where the shutoff matches the weather condition.”

“It was so poorly thought out and executed, when you stop and think that you have that many customers, [and PG&E] hasn’t thought through what it’s going to take to support a website to help people, to notify people, [and] let them know when their power’s going on,” Dodd added.

“We’re going to have to think through some of these issues moving forward and do a better job,” he said, referring in particular to people he described as “medically fragile.”

“Some of those people can’t go to a warming center,” he said.

Near the beginning of the holiday season, food banks were also affected by the widespread shutoffs in fire-prone areas.

“The power shutoff happened right in the middle of our biggest fundraiser,” Amanda Friscia, the Executive Director of the Mendocino Food and Nutrition Program, also known as the Fort Bragg Food Bank, told The Epoch Times.

Luckily, the fundraiser took place at a separate location from the food bank.

“Our facility actually has a generator and we’re able to run when the power does go off,” Friscia said. “We remain open when the power’s out so I think that, for us, it’s a really nice ability to have because our clients can still come to the food bank and get food.”

Still, the generator relies on propane tanks, which can occasionally run in short supply.

“We were very dependent on propane delivery to keep our generator going, and there was a time where we were wondering if they were going to make it in time,” she added. “That’s part of the issue.”

Friscia also mentioned practical concerns the community faces when many people are without food during a power shutoff.

“What happens when all of a sudden nobody has any food?” she said. “How do we support our community when this happens? Apparently, this seems like it’s a new trend and it’s not going to go away.”

PG&E CEO Bill Johnson told lawmakers that part of the problem was the result of poor preparation.

“We weren’t as well prepared as we thought, and we needed to give a little more attention — a lot more attention — to impacts after we shut the power off,” Johnson said, according to AP. “I do think as things went on, we got better at each one of these.”

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