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California utilities commission votes 5-0 for investigation of planned blackouts by PG&E, others

Source: 
Sacramento Bee

Nov. 13--The California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to order an investigation into the intentional blackouts by PG&E and other utilities that left millions without power over the course of several days in October.

The PUC panel voted 5-0 during a short public meeting in San Francisco to commence "an investigation into whether California's investor-owned electric utilities prioritized safety and complied with the Commission's regulations and requirements with respect to their Late 2019 Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events," according to the agenda item.

The inquiry will "investigate whether California's investor owned utilities' actions to de-energize their electric facilities during hazardous weather conditions properly balance the need to provide reliable service with public safety."

The investor-owned utilities include PG&E, which shut off power for hundreds of thousands of homes and business during four distinct, massive-scale outage events in October, as well as Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

The vote allows the regulatory commission to formally proceed with an investigation ordered by PUC President Marybel Batjer. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who appointed Batjer to her position in July, has also called for the PUC to investigate the planned blackouts by investor-owned utilities like PG&E.

Following the first mass blackout initiated by PG&E last month, from Oct. 9-12, Batjer sent a letter to PG&E calling for "corrective actions," then held an "emergency meeting" Oct. 18 with PG&E executives.

In advance of that meeting, PG&E CEO Bill Johnson in statements and in a letter to Newsom defended the deliberate outages, citing concern for safety following significant severe wind events throughout Northern California that posed extreme wildfire risk. Johnson did apologize for what Batjer referred to as a "total breakdown" in PG&E's communications with the public and local governments.

All that happened before the Oct. 23 ignition of the Kincade Fire, the state's largest wildfire so far this year, which started near the Sonoma County town of Geyserville and spread rapidly during an even gustier windstorm two days later, also in the midst of yet another mass blackout.

PG&E in a filing to the PUC disclosed that a faulty transmission tower may have sparked the Kincade Fire in the hills outside of Geyserville. In the following days, PG&E stock plummeted and criticism of the utility by elected officials, including a coalition of mayors and county supervisors including Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, sharpened even more.

PG&E extends claims deadline

Separately, PG&E announced this week that it has extended the deadline to file claims related to Northern California wildfires.

Anyone who believes money is owed to them by PG&E from Northern California fires that ignited before Jan. 29, 2019, the date the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, has until 5 p.m. on Dec. 31 to file their claim. The original deadline had been Oct. 21.

Fire claims can be filed online at pgewildfireinfo.com.

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(c)2019 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

Visit The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) at www.sacbee.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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