On November 18, 2019, the California Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee held an Oversight Hearing on “Electric Utility Power Shutoffs: Identifying Lessons Learned and Actions to Protect Californians”. The purpose of the Committee hearing was to review the recent utility Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events and to learn what could be done to mitigate the associated risks, including unintended consequences. Panel presentations by the Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs), Administration and various Agency officials identified a wide-range of impacts from the power shutoffs, including school closures (whether or not the power was actually shut off), food spoilage, loss of cell service, including the critical ability to receive PSPS and evacuation information and 911 emergency assistance, and the lives of those endangered by the loss of electrically powered medical equipment, whether at home, in hospitals or long-term care facilities.
Legislators talked about the need to develop a comprehensive action plan, which will include legislation, oversight and funding through the state budget and require utilities to provide realistic timelines for work that the public can depend on and real accountability if goals are not met.
The general consensus was that the utilities, PG&E, in particular, have used PSPS too broadly with little or no strategic planning. In the future, PSPS events must be implemented in the most precise and strategic manner possible to minimize the number of impacted customers for the least amount of time with greatest amount of relief for affected businesses and households.
In response to accusations that its use of PSPS was overly broad and not focused like SDG&E and SCE, PG&E noted that its transmission system is designed differently and it doesn’t yet have in place the extensive weather collection data, real time monitoring capabilities and sectionalizing devices that SDG&E and SCE have installed, although PG&E is worked to do so as fast as possible. Although Legislators disliked the answer, PG&E said it could take ten years to get to a point where the need for PSPS is non-existent or implemented only in a very surgical way.
The CPUC has taken immediate action to hold the IOUs responsible and to increase public safety. The CPUC held an emergency meeting to hear from top PG&E officials, its Safety Enforcement Division (SED) is investigating whether the IOUs properly balanced safety and service reliability when planning and executing the PSPS events and, on November 12th, CPUC President Batjer issued an order to show cause why PG&E should not be sanctioned for its PSPS actions.
Contact: Ron Liebert, Samantha Neumyer.