Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) executives told state regulators on Friday that preemptively shutting off power in high-risk wildfire areas could continue for the next decade.
PG&E Corp. CEO Bill Johnson said the Oct. 8-13 public safety power shutoff (PSPS) "achieved its essential goal" of no fires, but he said that the effort left thousands of customers in 35 counties without power for as much as five days. PG&E is working toward a day when a PSPS will no longer be needed, but he does not see that cany time soon.
In an emergency meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), President Marybel Batjer joined other members in unrelenting criticism of the San Francisco-based utility giant.
"What we saw play out by PG&E last week cannot be repeated," Batjer said. The shutoffs “are only effective when they are implemented in a reasonable and competent manner; and this did not happen last week.” Batjersaid the emergency session was called to examine the unprecedented scope and scale of the recent planned shutoffs and the "inadequate execution" by the utility.
Johnson conceded three major areas of failure during the recent PSPS: the utility website crashed twice during the outages; utility maps were inaccurate; and customer call centers were overwhelmed.
He told the CPUC that technological advances would eventually eliminate the need for preventive shutoffs. When pressed for a timeline, he estimated that it could take 10 years. "I think we get better every year, but the risk is significant.”
As PG&E was receiving caustic feedback from regulators, county officials and consumers in San Francisco, Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) warned customers that a PSPS in that part of the state also was possible. SGE was criticized for failing to call one at the outset of the Saddleridge fire earlier this month.
PG&E and SCE leaders have acknowledged they need to do a better job of communicating about the shutoffs. During the CPUC meeting, Batjer at one point expressed exasperation with the explanations, claimingthe recent PSPS was a "failure of executive management, not the crews working in the field and in the call centers."
Batjer criticized PG&E utility CEO Andrew Vesey noting he provided a lot of plans but poor results. She said she was astounded that PG&E still was working on basic communication steps after conducting several planned shutoffs.
"You guys failed on so many levels, and on pretty simple stuff," she told Vesey, urging him to get plans in place "now, not at the end of the year."