Capitol Alert

Newsom announces $75 million program to help California cities prepare for PG&E blackouts

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $75 million program on Friday to help local governments deal with the precautionary power shut offs that are likely to grow more frequent as the troubled PG&E utility attempts to limit its liability during fire conditions.

Newsom and the Legislature had included the money in the 2019 state budget to assist communities that face the greatest risk of what are called public safety power shutoffs. Half of the money will go toward local governments, with at least $150,000 to be funneled toward each of the 58 counties.

The program announcement arrives as two wildfires, the Kincade and Tick, blaze through Sonoma and Los Angeles Counties. As of Friday morning, the Kincade Fire had burned through more than 20,000 acres in the Bay Area while the Tick Fire, north of Los Angeles, had burned through 4,300 acres. Both fires were only 5 percent contained.

Newsom traveled to Sonoma County on Friday to survey the affected Kincade areas, according to his office. Speaking at the Healdsburg Forest Fire Station, Newsom said the investments will help local jurisdictions grow more resilient in the face of increased wildfire vulnerability.

“The kind of investments that are necessary will take a little bit of time,” Newsom said. “Nonetheless, we have to recognize we are living in a new world. Particularly in a state like ours.”

The money can go toward new equipment, fuel storage and backup energy sources for “essential facilities” like fire stations and health centers. Newsom’s office also said that funding could be used for developing new plans for when blackouts strike and to adequately equip community resource centers.

“We are a nation state. We are conducting ourselves all across the state by allocating appropriate resources,” Newsom said. “We’ve never had more resources in this space than we do today.”

PG&E had announced earlier this week that it would cut power to an estimated 179,000 households and businesses in 17 Northern and Central California counties after a red flag warning was issued for the areas. The company cited dangerous winds, low humidity and dried vegetation as cause for concern. By Friday afternoon, around 6,700 customers remained without power in the PG&E territory, Newsom said.

Despite the effort, the bankrupted utility had filed an incident report to the state Public Utilities Commission on Thursday evening saying a “broken jumper” had been found on a line near the area where the Kincade flames started.

More power outages were expected on Saturday and Sunday, with the hope to be restored by Monday, Newsom said.

The governor has blasted PG&E for the blackouts in recent weeks, and called on the company to rebate customers affected by the shutoffs. In a letter he wrote to PG&E CEO Bill Johnson this week, Newsom said residential customers should get a $100 credit, while small businesses should be issued $250 for its Oct. 9 blackout.

“We should not have to be here,” Newsom said on Friday. “Years and years of greed, years and years of mismanagement. Particularly with the largest investor on the utility in the state of California — PG&E. That greed has precipitated in a lack of intentionality and focus on hardening their grid, undergrounding their transmission lines. They simply did not do their job. It took us decades to get here, but we will get out of this mess.”

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Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.