In case anyone needed another reason to leave California, the chief executive officers of Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. (PG&E) now says the company may have to impose blackouts over the next 10 years.
NPR reported that CEO Bill Johnson told energy regulators at California’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) the company needed more time to trim trees and update its technology to prevent future forest fires. In the meantime, Johnson said, the company would have to impose blackouts.
PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January. Months later, investigators determined that it was the company’s electrical transmission lines that caused a fire that sparked the raging forest fires in California last November.
Johnson reportedly said at the meeting that it could take 10 years for the power outages to be “ratcheted down significantly.”
Earlier this month, the company shut off power for millions of Northern and Central California residents during high winds to avoid another fire. At the time, Johnson “continued to insist the blackout was necessary to prevent wildfires as high winds swept the state; he predicted at 6 p.m. that 98% of the affected customers would have the lights back on by midnight,” according to The Sacramento Bee.
During that blackout, which lasted three days but was originally scheduled for six, people faced spoiled food and loss of income due to businesses that would have to shut down. One man died after he was unable to get to his battery-operated backup oxygen machine. The family was aware the power outage was coming, but was not prepared for the power to cut off at 3:30 a.m. The coroner ruled the death was caused by the man’s health issues and not the power outage, but his family disagreed.
KCRA reported that PG&E may shut off powers to residents in parts of 17 California counties due to another round of high winds. The company said a “significantly smaller” number of residents would have their power shut off than the outage earlier this month.
PG&E calls the outages Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events. Johnson wrote in a letter to the PUC that the company understands how difficult further outages would be for California residents.
“We recognize the hardship that the recent PSPS event caused for millions of people and want to continue working with all key shareholders to lessen this burden going forward,” Johnson wrote. “At the same time, we ask our customers, their families, and our local and state leaders to keep in mind that statistic that matters most: there were no catastrophic wildfires.”
During the last outage, KPFA “UpFront” host Brian Edwards-Tiekert laid out how PG&E was responsible for the ongoing pain for Californians. He reported that the company “neglected” its equipment, which sparked the wildfires. The company told a judge earlier this year that it needed to conduct inspections and maintenance on its equipment, but by October had only completed one-third of what was necessary. This maintenance includes trimming trees near power equipment.
The situation California has found itself in was mostly preventable had PG&E properly maintained its transformers and electrical towers. Now thousands and potentially millions of Californians will have their power shut off throughout the next 10 years.