The California Public Utility Commission (PUC) voted unanimously Wednesday morning to investigate how last month’s blackouts were handled, and the burden of proof is on PG&E to prove they should not be sanctioned.
Bankrupt and beleaguered PG&E is still dealing with the fallout from both early October and late October blackouts that left millions of Californians without power, blackouts made more infuriating by the company’s website crashing and leaving customers unable to find out if they’d lose electricity. The PUC is still up in arms over the extended blackouts, and KPIX reports the PUC voted unanimously Wednesday morning to open new investigations into PG&E, investigations which could draw fines of $100,000 per day for each violation they find. Per the tweet we see below, hearings will begin next Wednesday.
Today @CaliforniaPUC took action to hold communications companies accountable for their operations during recent utility PSPS events. Hearing set for 11/20/19. https://t.co/hIziNuA3Pc pic.twitter.com/1NIKOFa2WN— California PUC (@californiapuc) November 13, 2019
According to the Chronicle, the PUC is alleging PG&E’s “failure to properly communicate with its customers and coordinate with local governments” that power outages were coming. A press release from the PUC adds that “the evaluation will include the quality of the utilities’ internal coordination, situational awareness, external communication, and pre-planning and execution for the [Public Safety Power Shut-off] events.”
These shutoff “events” were intended to prevent the spread of wildfires, by cutting off the flow the power to areas deemed at risk. But not long into late October’s Kincade Fire, the Chronicle broke the news that a high-voltage transmission tower that had not been shut off blew a jumper very close to the fire’s origin point, once again raising the spectre that PG&E’s equipment might be to blame. The commission is likely to look into that matter, and Cal Fire's investigation into the fire is ongoing.
PG&E spokesperson Kristi Jourdan acknowledged in an email to the Chronicle that “there are areas of our safety shutoff operations and communications that we must continue to improve for our customers.” But she ultimately defended the outages, saying, “while we recognize that the scope of these events is unsustainable in the long term, it was the correct decision for safety given the large-scale, historic weather events and ensuing equipment damage that unfolded across our service area.”
PG&E had already announced that they’re shelling out $500,000 apiece to both Oakland and San Jose, a preemptory move that may seem like peanuts if the PUC gets down to handing out however many $100,000 fines they choose to levy. But it may be bigger trouble for PG&E that state senator Scott Wiener’s just announced a proposal to make the utility publicly owned, and senator Kamala Harris’ introduced a bill that would ban bankrupt utilities from giving executives bonuses. Compared to to those legislative changes, PUC fines might seem like a slap on the wrist the PG&E might very much prefer,
Image: danxoneil via Flickr