Judge's Ruling Hampers Plan for Regulating PG&E Power Shutdowns: CPUC

State regulators on Monday joined a growing army of critics of a federal judge’s plan to reduce PG&E wildfires to zero. In court filings they argue that the judge’s intervention could interfere with a plan being developed to safely shutdown power, and that he should simply get out of the way.

A filing by attorneys for the California Public Utilities Commission reads “Despite our best efforts to date, utility-caused wildfires are still occurring… and the CPUC recognizes the need to redouble wildfire prevention efforts, which we are presently doing.”

On Wednesday, Judge William Alsup is set to decide whether to impose new probation restrictions on the company in conjunction with the deadly San Bruno pipeline blast. Alsup has proposed making the company either re-inspect and vouch that parts of its system can safely withstand high winds, or shut them all down in advance of high winds.

PG&E claims that plan could cause rates to increase five-fold and cost as much as $150 billion. Federal prosecutors agree, arguing the court should rely on the current framework - where the company is being watched by a court appointed monitor.

However, attorneys for the counties ravaged by the North Bay fires in 2017, wrote to regulators in support the judge’s “swift and comprehensive action” plan. It’s clear regulators are unconvinced. In the new filing they argue the judge’s plan would undermine the established process.

“In practice, the proposed order will in all likelihood conflict with and frustrate the extensive federal statutory and state Constitutional and statutory regulatory scheme under which the CPUC regulates PG&E.” Essentially saying the judge’s plan would hamper existing regulation… writing the court’s intervention could upset the balance of maintaining “both safe and reliable service, without compromising either policy.”

The regulators believe shutting down parts of the system should be only done selectively and “under carefully considered, specified conditions.”

They further warn that any widespread court ordered shutdowns could interfere with emergency first response, public safety and hospital and home care of vulnerable populations as well as military operations.

PG&E has made similar arguments, although it did shut down power once before, but opted not to shut down its system before the Camp fire.

More specific rules about how to cut power in high risk areas are now being worked out, but critics say such a process could take years.

In one of the most direct passages in the new filing, regulators argue that the best way for the judge to achieve the public safety is to stay out it. Writing the best course “is to avoid conflicting with the CPUC's ongoing exercise of exclusive jurisdiction to regulate the safe and reliable operation of the electric system at just and reasonable rates.”

Adding “The Court should accordingly allow the CPUC's investigations, rulemakings, and other regulatory processes to continue, and to refrain from implementing the proposed order.”

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