CA Senate oversight committee grills PG&E over public safety power shutoffs

Pacific Gas and Electric CEO and president Bill Johnson.

PG&E CEO Bill Johnson and other officials from PG&E testified before the State Senate energy, utilities and communications committee. The bankrupty utility responding to questions about the protocol, response and future of public safety power shutoffs. 

“We thought PG&E would use a scalpel in implementing these planned blackouts, instead PG&E has used a sledgehammer," said state senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).  

State senators did not hold back when speaking about the embattled utility.  Lawmakers have been critical of the bankrupt company's blackouts and how frequent and how long people have been left in the dark.  

“I think we’re on our third strike, third strike for PG&E," said State Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg).  "Strike 1 was the San Bruno gas explosion they tried to cover up and lied about. Strike 2 was the 2017-2018 wildfires. Strike 3 is the woefully inadequate response to the power shutoffs.”

Johnson defended the decision to shut power off multiple times to millions of people in the Bay Area, saying it mitigated fire risk worsened by climate change. “Why the increase in PSPS events? Because the risk of fire has increased dramatically," said Johnson. 

Johnson said the company's investing billions to improve infrastructure to limit future use of PSPS.  “I want to assure you of this, we do not expect an annual repeat of what we went through this October and what we put our customers and others through does not happen again," said Johnson. 

State senators on the committee were critical of PG&E's communication, resource centers and help for the most vulnerable people. Lawmakers want to see clear steps towards improving what they call a "decrepit" system and soon. “You say it’s going to take ten years, is that satisfactory to you, to be unmodernized?" asked McGuire.  “No, it’s not acceptable to me to have another year like this, let alone ten of these," responded Johnson. 

Senators also asked about the upcoming outage and how they intend to protect the most vulnerable from colder night time temperatures. PG&E officials said they are working with counties to come up with a solution.