SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Calling planned power outages affecting more than 700,000 people “unacceptable,” Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday demanded Pacific Gas and Electric pay rebates to customers affected by its widespread electricity shutoffs aimed at preventing wildfires.
“Californians should not pay the price for decades of PG&E’s greed and neglect,” Newsom said in a statement Monday.
Hoping to avoid a repeat of catastrophic fires caused by its equipment in 2017 and 2018, PG&E cut power to about 738,000 customers in 34 counties last week amid forecasts of strong and dry winds, conditions that increase the risk of wildfires. Critics, including the governor, say these power outages could have been avoided had PG&E been maintaining its equipment and vegetation around power lines as required by state law.
The company announced Saturday it had fully restored power to all customers. In an update Monday night, PG&E said it found 100 incidents of weather-related damage to its electric system after inspecting 25,000 miles of distribution lines and 2,500 miles of transmission lines.
On Monday, Newsom urged PG&E to provide rebates of $100 to customers and $250 to small businesses to provide “some compensation for their hardships.”
The governor also penned a letter to Marybell Batjer, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, urging her to launch a “comprehensive review” of PG&E’s public safety power shutoff program.
Accusing PG&E of “astounding neglect and lack of preparation” in how it implemented the program, Newsom implored the commission to take “concrete and expedited steps” to limit PG&E’s use of power shutoffs in the future, especially in terms of the scope and duration of power outages.
“We must ensure accountability, especially when planning is poor and protocols are not followed,” Newsom said.
The governor said he would contact PG&E’s CEO Bill Johnson directly to urge him to provide affected customers automatic rebates of $100 to $250.
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who introduced legislation to force PG&E to compensate people and businesses for last week’s power blackouts, applauded the governor’s efforts in a statement Monday.
“I look forward to working with the governor to ensure we hold PG&E accountable for its actions,” Wiener said. “We must set a new standard for how PG&E treats Californians.”
PG&E said in a statement Monday that it received the governor’s letter and plans to issue a formal response.
“We know there are areas where we fell short of our commitment to serving our customers during this unprecedented event, both in our operations and in our customer communications, and we look forward to learning from these agencies how we can improve,” the company said, referring to times when its website, designed to inform customers about power outages, was down for hours.
The company said it understands the significant impact power blackouts have on customers, businesses, and communities. Nevertheless, the utility insisted it made “the right decision.”
“While we recognize this was a hardship for millions of people throughout Northern and Central California, we made that decision to keep customers and communities safe,” PG&E said.
The California Public Utilities Commission scheduled an emergency meeting for Friday, Oct. 18, at its San Francisco headquarters to discuss the power blackouts with top PG&E executives.
PG&E is currently engaged in a ramped-up effort to clear trees, limbs and other wildfire risks from around its power lines in high fire-risk areas. As of Oct. 1, the company reported completing 760 miles, or 31%, of the 2,455 miles it had planned to finish by the end of 2019 as part of its enhanced vegetation management program.