CPUC to launch investigation into PG&E power shutoffs

In the wake of a series of Public Safety Power Shutoffs taking place throughout Sonoma County due to the Kincade Fire, the California Public Utilities Commission on Monday announced it would be launching an investigation into the shutoffs.

The CPUC's announcement comes after thousands of people in Sonoma County had their power shutoff over the weekend and faced mandatory evacuations due to the Kincade Fire, which started Wednesday night and has burned more than 74,000 acres and destroyed 123 structures, including 57 homes.

Although the PSPS program by PG&E helps lower the chances of utility infrastructure igniting fires, the CPUC has expressed concern over 
the disruption the shutoffs are causing for residents, businesses, and communities.

"The state cannot continue to experience PSPS events on the scope and scale Californians have experienced this month, nor should Californians be subject to the poor execution that PG&E, in particular, has exhibited," commission President Marybel Batjer said in a statement.

"Through the actions announced today, as well as other steps under our regulatory purview, the CPUC will demand that utilities prepare for and execute PSPS events in a way that greatly reduces impacts on Californians," she said.

In addition to a formal investigation into the PSPS, the CPUC will also re-examine how utilities use power shutoffs; ensure that utilities don't 
charge customers during the shutoffs; direct utilities to focus on safety for the 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Plan; and gather experts to identify new 
technologies that can help minimize the use of PSPS.

In a statement, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he agreed with the CPUC's decision.

"I want to see the CPUC launch a total reform of power shutoff rules and regulations. Utilities must be held accountable and be aggressively penalized for their over-reliance on PSPS, and the product of this investigation must be new rules and regulations to do that. I also want to see customers not charged for PSPS. It seems obvious, but under the current rules, utilities can do just that. It's unacceptable and must be remedied," he said.

In addition to the recent power shutoffs, earlier this month more than 738,000 households and businesses in more than 30 Northern and Central California counties lost power at various times as a precaution prompted by windy and dry weather throughout the state.