CPUC fines PG&E $106M for 2019 shutoffs, website unavailability

The California Public Utilities Commission issued a $106 million penalty for Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for violating safety guidelines during three power shutoffs held in the fall of 2019.

The net penalty is $20 million, as the utility giant issued credits to customers' bills -- by order of the governor -- that totaled $86 million, according to an announcement about the ruling the commission released Wednesday afternoon.

The $20 million penalty ordered in this decision will be paid by shareholders in the form of customer bill credits and a contribution to a backup portable battery program.

Chief among the violations was the utility's website being unavailable or non-functioning during most of the duration of the power shutoff. 

In addition, the decision noted several other failures: the inaccuracy of PG&E's online outage maps, the inaccessibility of secure data transfer portals to PG&E's public safety partners, and PG&E's failure to provide advanced notification of power shutoff events to approximately 50,000 customers and 1,100 Medical Baseline customers during the shutoff events.

The decision directs the utility to make the following payments:
-$12.185 million to be spread across the bills of the general group of customers in the areas affected
-$6.4 million to Medical Baseline customers in the areas affected
-$1.418 million to PG&E's Disability Disaster Access & Resources Program, which provides qualifying customers access to backup portable batteries through a grant, lease-to-own or low-interest loan options.

PG&E issued a statement regarding the CPUC penalty, acknowledging the utility "fell short of what our customers expect and deserve."

The statement said, "We recognize certain challenges regarding our customer notifications and website accessibility. We have made substantial improvements in those areas as well as in support for customers -- including those with medical or independent living needs -- and planning and working with local governments. We will continue to make additional improvements to support our customers, while working to keep them safe."