CA Gov. Gavin Newsom takes action amid emergency power shutoffs

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To promote public health and safety, the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, is working to drive down risks of ignitions from utility infrastructure, power loss risks and disruption to communities.

Within the next month, the CPUC Safety and Enforcement Division will ask CPUC commissioners to open a proceeding known as the Order Instituting Investigation into the 2019 Public Safety Power Shutoff, or PSPS, and utility compliance with CPUC regulations and requirements.

This formal investigation is part of other efforts initiated to prevent a PSPS event from happening in the future.

The CPUC works alongside Cal Fire and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to reduce the risk of utility infrastructure causing wildfires, and to improve utility services for Californians during emergencies. Berkeley City Councilmember Susan Wengraf said the CPUC should be held accountable for improper usage of the PSPS, especially in Northern California where PG&E headquarters are located.

“The governor has the authority to change the makeup of the CPUC and get serious about demanding that PG&E figure out a sustainable solution to their history of deferred maintenance and endangering the lives of Californians,” Wengraf said. “There has to be a better solution. We’re functioning at a very low level as a society here.”

In a letter addressed to utility executives from PG&E, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, Gov. Gavin Newsom demanded that California’s investor-owned utilities take action to reduce the impact on customers during power shutoffs.

Newsom urged executives to follow previous agreements to provide emergency informational services for Californians, and at least a 72-hour notice of a potential PSPS to state and local government emergency officials. 

“Californians are wary and skeptical of their electric utilities,” Newsom said in the letter. “Transparency and an adherence to your commitments to use power shutoffs only as a last resort are critical first steps to building the trust of utility customers, state and local government, and emergency responders.”

The city of Berkeley, among other local governments, is working to provide various forms of assistance to residents through emergency operation centers and other facilities operated by state agencies, including Caltrans, the California Health and Human Services Agency and the California Natural Resources Agency, as well as the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Environmental Protection Agency.

Wengraf hopes the city will look into controlling its own power, which Sacramento and Palo Alto have already done. Berkeley does participate, however, in the East Bay Community Choice Aggregation Program for renewable energy through East Bay Community Energy.

“We appreciate the feedback we’ve received. … We’ve taken those requests and suggestions seriously and working to implement many of them for this and future PSPS events,” said PG&E spokesperson Jennifer Robison in a statement. “While we recognize that the scope of these events is unsustainable in the long term, it was the correct decision given the large-scale, historic weather event and ensuing equipment damage that unfolded across our service area.”

Contact Olivia Buccieri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @obuccieri_dc‏.