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CPUC to Study Power Shutoff Program to Prevent Wildfires

California state regulators are taking proactive steps to prevent the next major wildfire.

On Thursday, the Public Utility Commission considered a plan to make rules for when and where utilities such as PG&E should shut down power as a precaution during high fire danger periods.

The commission passed a proposal to study the option with the understanding that it’s only "one tool in the toolbox."

"If you have a fire, they’ll turn your power off! said Howard Matis, a resident of the Oakland hills. "And we feel that turning the power off will be worse."

Matis barely survived the Oakland hills fire of 1991, and on Thursday, he joined a group of people concerned about preemptively shutting off power to prevent wildfires versus other options.

Members of PUC sympathized with ratepayers’ reservations, but ultimately they decided a closer look is merited.

"Many of the recent wildfires have been attributed to faulty equipment, some of their wires are like 100 years old! resident Karen Mocky said to the commission.

"People feel like de-energization disrupts and even endangers lives," Commissioner Cliff Rechtshaffen said. "So these are very real, serious concerns that people have."

CPUC President Michael Picker asked about how the power shutoff program is working elsewhere and if the same procedures will work in other parts of the state. San Diego Gas and Electric adopted a public safety power shutoff in 2012, and since then has used it 13 times, always as a last resort.

A spokesperson for the San Diego utility told NBC Bay Area there’s no way to know if it’s prevented catastrophe.

"Whenever we turn off the power for safety, we need to fully patrol the line before it’s restored," SDG&E spokeswoman Allison Torres said. "So, there have been times when we’ve noticed damage to a line or noticed a lot of flying debris in the area."

PG&E said in a statement it supports the commission’s efforts:

"We know how much our customers rely on electric service and the impacts that a public safety power shutoff event can have on our customers, their families and communities, including groceries and medical equipment. We only consider temporarily turning off power in the interest of safety and as a last resort."

There is no timeline on if or when the commission will adopt new rules.

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