CA Gov. Gavin Newsom demands consumer rebates for power outages

Richard Chen/Staff

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote a letter to PG&E Monday demanding the corporation provide customers with a rebate for last week’s extensive power outages.

The Public Safety Power Shutoff, or PSPS, affected 738,000 PG&E customers across 35 California counties, according to Newsom. Throughout the outage, customers had trouble receiving information about the exact nature of the shutdown, how long it would last and which areas would be affected. Specifically, PG&E’s website repeatedly crashed, and call center wait times were extremely long.

“The unacceptable scope and duration of this outage was the direct result of decades of PG&E prioritizing profit over public safety, mismanagement, inadequate investment in fire safety and fire prevention measures, and neglect of critical infrastructure,” Newsom said to Bill Johnson, CEO of PG&E, in his letter.

Newsom mentioned that such poor communication caused direct danger for many residents, noting that those relying on power to use medical equipment or for medication refrigeration could not properly plan for the PSPS.

Before the outage, PG&E executives responded to state and local agencies — who offered to help plan  effectively for the PSPS — by asserting the company would be able to handle such an event effectively, said Newsom. In light of these oversights, Newsom urged PG&E to offer a rebate to consumers affected by the outage — $100 per residential customer and $250 per small business. Newsom added that the rebate should be funded by the company shareholders.

Later that day, PG&E issued a statement in response.

“We know there are areas where we fell short of our commitment to serving our customers during this unprecedented event, both in our operations and in our customer communications,” Johnson said in his statement. “We look forward to learning … how we can improve.”

Johnson also said the company remains focused on reducing the threat of wildfires in the state and that the company welcomes feedback from their customers; the company did not comment on Newsom’s request.

In a separate letter, Newsom called for Marybel Batjer, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, to investigate PG&E’s execution of the PSPS. He added that under the recently passed law AB 1054, PG&E could be required to improve safety expertise among company employees, require utilities to invest in wildfire prevention efforts and eliminate shareholder profit on five billion dollars of safety investments.

UC Berkeley, which lost power for three days as a result of the outage, released a statement Friday regarding the matter.

“This week’s PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff was a real-time test of UC Berkeley’s emergency preparedness and response capabilities,” said the statement from Chancellor Carol Christ, Paul Alivisatos, executive vice chancellor and provost, as well as Marc Fisher, vice chancellor. “While we learned many lessons that will help us improve, overall we are encouraged by how the campus responded.”

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.