As California's three-week streak of preventive power shutoffs and serious wildfires calmed down over the weekend, the political rhetoric and regulatory pushback accelerated, resulting in the naming of a temporary statewide energy czar and Gov. Gavin Newsom calling for a public sector takeover of bankruptcy-mired Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E).
Newsom named Ana Matosantos to be energy czar along with her ongoing responsibilities as cabinet secretary. He also called for a complete overhaul of PG&E within the current Chapter 11 bankruptcy system, in which the state would take an unprecedented role and ensure that the San Francisco-based utility's "overly broad application" of public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) never is repeated.
To expedite PG&E's bankruptcy exit, and perhaps its public takeover, Newsom said that he will convene a meeting in Sacramento this week with executives and shareholders of the utility, wildfire victims and PG&E's major creditors. Newsome aims to "accelerate a consensual resolution to the bankruptcy cases that create a new entity, and one that better represents our California values and one that will advance massive safety transformations beginning before the next fire season."
If parties fail to reach an agreement quickly, Newsom said, "the state will not hesitate to step in and restructure the utility."
Newsom's newly named energy czar, along with several state energy, legal, environmental and legislative experts, will begin to "game out every option and prepare a plan should the state need to intervene." Newsom said "all options are on the table."
Newsom said the state's latest performance was a "world leading" response in wildfire prevention and protection. At the same time, he chastised PG&E, which he said had displayed "cultural ineptitude, a behemoth that was slow to act and resistant to change."
PG&E spokesperson James Noonan said PG&E shares the same goals as the state, and the giant utility "must play a role" in achieving them. "We want to fairly resolve the wildfire claims and exit Chapter 11 as quickly as possible," he said.
Last Thursday, the bulk of PG&E's latest planned power shutoffs ended as nearly all of the 1.1 million customers shutoff during Oct. 26-29 had been restored. The utility found at least 156 instances of weather-related damages to its facilities during the preventive shutoff, and said it is verifying hundreds more that will be part of a report to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in the next 10 days.
In the south, where the epic Santa Ana gale-force winds died out Friday, Southern California Edison Co. on Sunday reported zero customers without power because of public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) and no intentions for more shutoffs.
In a report to the CPUC on Thursday, SCE said that the Maria Fire began 13 minutes after the utility had re-energized a 16kV transmission power line south of Santa Paula. The power line had earlier been de-energized as part of a PSPS. SCE said that it had no information on the cause of the fire.
Sempra Energy President Joe Householder said Friday that San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (SDG&E) has not had a significant wildfire across its territory this year, despite significant weather conditions. "I was in the emergency operations center at one time this week, and I saw and heard utility team members making decisions on the ground to shut down lines that were saving lives," Householder said during Sempra's 3Q2019 earnings conference call. "We've had 10 years of hard work of wanting to get better and better, and we're prepared to help the other utilities in the state catch up."
SDG&E has no choice on the shutoffs, Householder said. "We have to do it because it is the only way we are going to keep people out of harm's way."