Edison International CEO Pedro Pizarro on Tuesday spoke up for his utility's need to call preventive power shutoffs and pushed back against California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stinging criticism of those shutoffs, even as new wildfires were fanned by record high winds in Southern California.
Pizarro, who heads the parent company overseeing Southern California Edison Co. (SCE), said the increasingly unpopular public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) are "a disruptive hardship, but necessary to reduce the possibility that our systems will cause an ignition." Utilities "don't take this action lightly," Pizarro said during a conference call with analysts.
Pizarro said reviews after PSPS events have uncovered several instances of damaged equipment and tree branches contacting power lines due to severe wind gusts, which could have sparked fires, but didn't because of the PSPSs.
SCE and the other major California electric utilities are spending billions of dollars to upgrade their systems with the latest technology to lessen the risk of wildfires and to help make the PSPS events more meaningful, Pizarro said. "We will continue to invest in more efficient equipment and more advanced computer power to provide more granular analyses," he said.
At the same time, Newsom was traveling to fire areas around the state, criticizing bankruptcy bound Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and saying that the revamped California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is no longer "cozy" with investor-owned energy utilities SCE and Sempra Energy's San Diego Gas and Electric Co.
Newsom has criticized PG&E for keeping some customers without power for five to seven days; for exercising "greed and mismanagement"; and for being slow to agree to pay residential and small business customers $100 and $250, respectively, for their trouble during the first PSPS earlier this month.
As winds eased in the north, PG&E issued a weather "all clear" for nearly all of the areas impacted by the Oct. 29 PSPS, clearing the way for utility crews to begin safety inspections of de-energized equipment, repair wind damage and restore power.
PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said gale-force winds Tuesday created an "extraordinary" event that was a once-in-50-year event. The utility's meteorologist indicated there are no similar storms on the horizon, so in nearly three dozen northern counties crews were busy restoring the last of the PSPS outage customers.
Johnson said the recent series of wind-driven fires "is further proof that we're living through extraordinary times, and we're not likely to return to 'normal' anytime soon. The risks in fire seasons are likely to go up, not down, and what we have to do as Californians is manage those risks and stay safe, and that's why we have the shutoffs, and as long as they remain the best tool to keep people safe, they are the tool we will use."
Like PG&E, which has been identified as potentially liable for numerous fires over the past three years in Northern California, Pizarro acknowledged that SCE could potentially have ultimate liability for this year's Saddleridge Fire, as well as the Woolsey and Thomas fires of the past two years. Last year, Edison took a $1.8 billion after-tax charge for the 2017-18 fires, which Pizarro called the "lower end" of estimated total liability for those fires.
Edison reported 3Q2019 earnings of $471 million ($1.36/share), compared to $513 million ($1.57) for the same period in 2018.