The head of California's Public Utilities Commission on Monday ordered PG&E to revamp its power shutdown program to avoid the kind of chaos and breakdowns that were evident in last week’s planned blackouts.
The power shutdown, meant to reduce fire risk, left an estimated 2 million Californians in the dark for days.
The PUC says it’s clear the utility was not up to the challenge.
“Throughout the event, PG&E had multiple issues with communication, coordination and event and resource management,” Commission President Marybel Batjer told PG&E’s CEO William Johnson by letter on Monday. “Failures in execution, combined with the magnitude” of the event, “created an unacceptable situation that should never be repeated.”
The company had repeatedly assured regulators it was prepared, Batjer said, but multiple breakdowns – including the repeated crashing of its website – seemed to prove otherwise.
The chaos triggered a call from state Sen. Jerry Hill demanding commission intervention and led to angry words from Gov. Gavin Newsom as well.
In apparent response on Monday, Batjer gave the company three days to respond to her concerns, telling Johnson that he and other top PG&E officials should be prepared to come to an emergency commission meeting Friday to explain how it will improve the shutoff program. To prevent a repeat, she also ordered that the company come up with a worst-case shutoff scenario and make sure its system could handle the resulting flood of phone and internet inquiries. The company, she said, must work better with local officials and create more accurate and timely maps of impacted areas.
She also demanded PG&E describe “all ways in which the utility has used monetary and other incentives to ensure that executives make … decisions that protect life and safety.”
The company, she said, should seek to have a 12-hour power restoration goal but acknowledged that due to its size and service area, the company may not be able to act “as strategically as other California utilities.”
Still, she said, the company needs to find ways to narrow the shutoff scope as well as do more to harden its system so it won’t have to turn off the power to begin with.
“It is critical that PG&E, along with all the other utilities in the state, learn from this event and take steps now to ensure mistakes and operational gaps are not repeated,” she said.
Meanwhile, Newsom separately wrote the CPUC urging PG&E to provide $100 rebates to customers and $250 credits to businesses to compensate for the inconvenience.
“PG&E has an obligation to the customers affected by the company’s inadequate preparation and failed execution of this power shutoff event,” the governor told the CPUC. “Lives and commerce were interrupted. Too much hardship was caused.”
He cited the “unprecedented scale” of the events of last week as proof 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.”
PG&E’s Johnson, in a statement, reiterated that PG&E had consulted with the commission and other authorities on key decisions. He also noted that after the shutoffs started, crews found some 50 separate cases of wind related equipment damage, suggesting that any one of them could have sparked a wildfire, if not for the preemptive shutdown.