Was The California Power Shutoff Necessary? PG&E Insists It Was

Despite growing criticism the public, California politicians, and state regulators, Pacific Gas & Electric is insisting that intentionally turning off the power last week to about two million Californians to prevent sparking wildfires with downed lines or damaged equipment. As proof, company officials say inspection crews have found more than 100 places where their system was damaged by strong winds recently.

PG&E says the damage included downed power lines and trees that hit lines. The utility says any one of those problems had the potential to start a fire that possibly would have spread quickly in the gusty wind. Those same officials also say wind gusts were between 75 and 80 miles per hour in portions of Sonoma County and reach 50 mph or higher in several other counties. In all there were 35 counties involved in the power outage.

The shutdown that began last Wednesday lasted two days, and it prompted angry reactions and accusations that PG&E hasn't done enough to upgrade the power transmission system over the two or three decades, so it can withstand wind and other weather events better.

Governor Gavin Newsom is asking the utility to give customers who went without power a break on their bill. The Democratic governor sent a letter Monday asking PG&E to provide a bill credit or rebate worth $100 for residential customers and $250 for small businesses. The California Public Utilities Commission has also ordered PG&E to comply with a series of corrective actions. The agency added PG&E must work harder to avoid large-scale outages, develop better ways to communicate with the public and local officials, obtain a better system for distributing outage maps and work with emergency personnel to ensure their staff is sufficiently trained.

CEO Bill Johnson issued a written statement in response to the Newsom letter.

"We've received the Governor’s letter and appreciate its intent – to help make the State and all of us safer," wrote Johnson. "First and most important, during the Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS), there were no catastrophic wildfires started. We welcome the review of our PSPS plan, practices and actions during the October 9-13 shutoff. We executed this event in accordance with our Wildfire Mitigation Plan as approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and under the guidelines of the CPUC’s De-energization Order Instituting Rulemaking."

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