California regulators have fined Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) $106 million for allegedly violating guidelines in 2019 for executing planned power outages to lower wildfire risks.
The fine by an administrative law judge (ALJ) is part of an ongoing effort by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to hold the state’s major investor-owned utilities accountable for the public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) used in wildfire mitigation measures.
Already under the CPUC’s microscope for its wildfire mitigation efforts, PG&E noted that it has covered $86 million of the fine through customer bill credits, so the decision orders a net payment of $20 million, paid by shareholders through credits to customers and a contribution to a statewide backup portable battery program.
The ALJ’s decision cites the violations as a “failure of PG&E’s website, which was unavailable or non-functional during the majority of the duration of a PSPS event, inaccuracy of its online outage maps, inaccessibility of its secure data transfer portals to its public safety partners, and PG&E’s failure to provide advanced notification of [PSPS] events to approximately 50,000 customers and 1,100 medical baseline customers during the three PSPS events in Fall 2019.”
PG&E spokesperson Kristi Jourdan said the San Francisco-based combination utility in October 2019 “fell short of what our customers expect and deserve,” but the utility made substantial progress in improving PSPS events last year and it expects to continue that trend this year.
After three widespread and disruptive PSPS events in October 2019, the CPUC issued a show-cause order asking PG&E why it should not be sanctioned for its handling of the planned power outages.
Since 2019, the CPUC has taken additional steps to refine and guide the PSPS and overall wildfire mitigation planning process leading up to the approval of final utility plans for the upcoming 2021 wildfire season.
In related action, the five-member CPUC is set to vote on a proposed decision (PD) Thursday (June 3) in its ongoing investigation of the utilities’ handling of PSPS events during 2019 wildfires. The PD found that PG&E, Southern California Edison Co., and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. failed to adhere to guidelines for the program.
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