California To Investigate PG&E Power Blackouts

The utility company shut off power to over 2 million people over the weekend as part of its fire prevention efforts.

The California Public Utilities Commission on Monday announced an investigation into what it called an “unprecedented series” of power shutoffs by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

The investigation into the Public Safety Power Shut-offs (PSPS), along with red flag warnings throughout the state caused in part by heavy winds, comes as more than a dozen fires are burning across California. PG&E shut off power to more than 2 million people in Northern California over the weekend in an effort to prevent further fires ― the largest-ever such power shutdown by the utility company. Outages were expected to continue into the week.

“The state cannot continue to experience PSPS events on the scope and scale Californians have experienced this month, nor should Californians be subject to the poor execution that PG&E in particular has exhibited,” CPUC President Marybel Batjer said in a news release.

The investigation, CPUC said, would build on a letter Batjer sent to PG&E on Oct. 14 about the shutoffs.

The commission said it would take “a number of steps” to minimize power shutoffs in future fire seasons, including reexamining the protocol utility companies must follow before shutting off power and ensuring companies don’t charge customers for the time when their power was turned off.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in response Monday that he hoped the commission would “launch a total reform of power shutoff rules and regulations.”

“Utilities must be held accountable and be aggressively penalized for their overreliance on PSPS, and the product of this investigation must be new rules and regulations to do that,” Newsom said. “I also want to see customers not charged for PSPS. It seems obvious, but under the current rules, utilities can do just that. It’s unacceptable and must be remedied.”

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

The company said Monday it had restored power in some areas, with roughly 30,000 customers getting electricity back on as of Sunday evening. However, PG&E also warned that it was preparing for more potential shutoffs starting Tuesday, due to forecasts of high winds, which could affect over half a million customers. 

Southern California Edison also cut power to nearly 16,000 households as of Monday morning in an effort to reduce fire hazards throughout Southern California.

PG&E stock continued to plummet Monday, with shares plunging to a low of $3.55 before regaining some ground. The company filed for bankruptcy in January after estimating $30 billion in wildfire liabilities resulting from the 2018 Camp Fire. The blaze killed 86 people, making it the deadliest in the state’s history.