PG&E defends planned power outage, but vows improvements, in report to state

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. continued to defend its decision to shut off power to nearly 60,000 customers over a three-day stretch in October in a report sent Wednesday to the California Public Utilities Commission, but acknowledged room for improvement for future planned outages.

For the first time ever, PG&E initiated a public safety power shutoff, beginning Oct. 14. Power was fully restored Oct. 17.

PG&E said in a news release it will focus “in the areas of customer communications, stakeholder outreach, and restoration times” going forward.

The compliance report submitted by the utility to PUC includes an explanation of the decision to shut off power and a detailed record of the circuits and areas affected. It additionally includes records of damaged equipment, claims filed by customers and all notifications provided.

“Before, during, and after this de-energization event, broad outreach was conducted to the communities potentially and actually impacted,” the report says.

However, the report promises efforts for better communication during future shutoff events. PG&E says it will attempt to notify customers between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. when possible; reduce repeat notifications; give more detailed information to first responders and state agencies; and keep customers more frequently updated on restoration estimates.

In June, Cal Fire blamed most of last fire season’s devastating blazes in Northern California on downed power lines and other problems with PG&E’s equipment.

PG&E noted 23 instances of “wind-related issues,” including “18 damaged spans of conductor,” or power lines, during last month’s outage. One pole, one transformer and five “cross-arms” were also damaged.

“Any necessary repairs are conducted while patrols continue to safely allow for patrol, repair, and restoration to proceed as efficiently as possible,” a later section of PG&E’s report reads. “Over 3,400 circuit miles were visually patrolled for safety. PG&E utilized over 300 field resources and 13 helicopters to identify any safety concerns and make necessary repairs prior to restoration.”

PG&E’s report says the utility company had received 17 residential complaints relating to the shutoff as of Oct. 24. Of those, 11 complaints dealt with restoration time frames.

A summary of communication says a total of more than 425,000 customer notifications were sent between Oct. 13 and Oct. 15.

The report says PG&E received more than 140 claims as of Oct. 24 — 25 of them due to business interruption, 17 due to property damage and 102 due to food loss.

“PG&E has stated publicly that because of the safety-related nature of PSPS events, customers will not be reimbursed for associated losses,” the report reads.

A data table of circuit outages shows the Placerville, El Dorado, Apple Hill and Diamond Springs areas each cut power to more than 5,000 total customers. In all, PG&E’s report says 41 circuits were temporarily de-energized.

The decision rationale section consists entirely of weather and high fire-risk conditions, mentioning the National Weather Service-issued Red Flag Warning, heavy wind forecasts, dry ground conditions and other factors.

Aside from lost power, lost food and damage to property, PG&E faced criticism for the planned shutoff from some advocacy groups, including Santa Monica group Consumer Watchdog, which claimed PG&E’s shutoff was a political move to get legislative relief from wildfire liability.

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