California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is demanding that Pacific Gas & Electric provide a financial break to all its customers affected by a forced power outage last week, underscoring the broad criticism the company is facing for how it handled the situation.
In his Monday announcement, Newsom urged the Northern California utility to give affected customers an automatic credit or rebate of $100 per residential customer and $250 per small business. In total, 738,000 people across 35 counties stand to benefit.
He also confirmed that the California Public Utilities Commission will be conducting a review of PG&E’s actions.
“Californians should not pay the price for decades of PG&E’s greed and neglect,” Newsom said in his announcement, which came a few days after the majority of people who lost power last Wednesday regained it over the weekend.
PG&E’s power lines and transformers have been responsible for many of the region’s deadliest wildfires in recent years. The decision to shut the power off for several days last week was an effort to lessen wildfire risk during a period of strong winds and low humidity, but by the company’s own admission, the plan’s rollout did not go well.
“PG&E’s mismanagement of the power shutoffs experienced last week was unacceptable,” Newsom said. “We will continue to hold PG&E accountable to make radical changes ― prioritizing the safety of Californians and modernizing its equipment.”
The utility’s missteps were numerous. Its website, which had maps and information about the planned outages, crashed hours ahead of the first shutoff. At its resource centers ― locations the company set up for people to cool off and charge their phones ― inadequate staffing led to chaos. Perhaps most troubling, the systems that the company uses to alert people they’d lose power failed, leaving nursing homes and other vulnerable communities clamoring for backup generators.
PG&E did not immediately return a request for comment on Newsom’s demands. However, it has already said it will not reimburse customers for the cost of lost business, spoiled food and medication, or alternative housing linked to the outage.
All the concerns about the forced power outage come as PG&E was already facing intense scrutiny for allegedly prioritizing profits over the safety of its infrastructure. The drastic solution of a forced power outage is a frustrating response to a problem of PG&E’s own making, California state leaders say.
“None of us are happy about this,” Newsom told reporters last week about the power outage, adding, “We have an antiquated system at PG&E that needs to be upgraded.”
PG&E has been under practically nonstop investigation for the past decade over all the wildfires connected to its violations of safety rules, such as poor record-keeping on malfunctioning equipment. California regulators have repeatedly found that PG&E violated state laws on equipment safety ― an especially dangerous failure during the state’s recent prolonged periods of drought.