OAKLAND, Calif. - The response to the PG&E public safety power shut off from customers and elected officials has been swift and full of frustration. “It’s not fair to make everyone else pay the price of PG&E’s long term and chronic negligence,” said Mark Toney, the executive director of The Utility Reform Network or TURN.
Toney is echoing the frustrations of many PG&E customers who are finding themselves in the dark during the PSPS. “If PG&E had spent the money we gave them on trimming the trees and maintaining the power lines safely, we wouldn’t be in this position,” said Toney.
Toney says the shut off should be a last resort according to the public utilities commission. PG&E continues to say they don’t take this decision lightly and community safety is the priority. A spokesperson also said the company’s been working on improvements. “Vegetation management, making sure our wires are clear of vegetation, also includes hardening our system for the future,” said Ari Venrenen, a spokesperson for the utility.
But, in its latest filing to a federal judge, PG&E says it’s completed less than a third of its tree trimming work this season. The utility has faced major scrutiny from state senator Jerry Hill, who represents San Bruno, where a 2010 PG&E gas line explosion took 8 lives. In a statement, senator Hill said, “The huge numbers targeted by PG&E tell us two things. First and foremost: The potential for fire danger is serious and people must be prepared. Second: PG&E clearly hasn’t made its system safe. These shutdowns are supposed to be surgical. Shutdowns that could impact as many as 800,000 people in 34 of our 58 counties are by no means surgical. The hearing I held in August emphasized that shutdowns are an extreme and a temporary safety tactic, they are not a safety strategy. PG&E needs to harden its system, make it resilient and make it safe, and not make power shutdowns the go-to response. This is not the response expected from the largest utility in a section of the state that leads global tech innovation.”
But, the embattled company warned this could happen again. “We do want to make sure our customers are prepared for potential public safety power shutoffs, this year, we are still in the midst of wildfire season,” said Venrenen.
Tuesday night, the governor said the utility’s system has to be fixed. TURN says PG&E shareholders need to be held accountable for the cost of a shutoff. When asked about that possibility, this was the company’s response, “Because we’re shutting off power for safety, we do not compensate for claims,” said Venrenen.