FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2018, file photo, smoke billows around power transmission lines as the Camp Fire burns in Big Bend, Calif. Experts say it's hard to know whether keeping millions of Californians in the dark prevented a catastrophic wildfire. The question takes on new significance after authorities said Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, that a man in his 60s who relied on oxygen died 12 minutes after losing electricity in a planned outage by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., east of Sacramento. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

California regulator sanctions utility over power outages

October 14, 2019 - 6:35 pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California's top utility regulator blasted Pacific Gas and Electric on Monday for what she called "failures in execution" during the largest planned power outage in state history to avoid wildfires that she said, "created an unacceptable situation that should never be repeated." The agency ordered a series of corrective actions, including a goal of restoring power within 12 hours, not the utility's current 48-hour goal.

"The scope, scale, complexity, and overall impact to people's lives, businesses, and the economy of this action cannot be understated," California Public Utilities Commission President Marybel Batjer wrote in a letter to PG&E CEO Bill Johnson.

PG&E last week took the unprecedented step of cutting power to more than 700,000 customers, affecting nearly 2 million Californians. The company said it did it because of dangerous wind forecasts but acknowledged that its execution was poor.

Its website frequently crashed, and many people said they did not know the power was going out.

PG&E did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the sanctions.

In addition to restoring power faster, the PUC said the utility must work harder to avoid such large-scale outages, develop better ways to communicate with the public and local officials, get a better system for distributing outage maps and work with emergency personnel to ensure PG&E staff are sufficiently trained.

She ordered the utility to perform an audit of its performance during the outage, which began last Wednesday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has also criticized PG&E for its performance during the outage, blaming what he called decades of mismanagement, underinvestment and lousy communication with the public. On Monday the Democratic governor urged the utility to compensate affected customers with a bill credit or rebate worth $100 for residential customers or $250 for small businesses.

Newsom said the shutoffs affected too many customers for too long, and it is clear PG&E implemented them "with astounding neglect and lack of preparation."

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