With the support from Governor Newsom and the Legislature, the CPUC this month (5/30/2019) approved allowing utilities to cut off electricity to possibly hundreds of thousands of customers to avoid catastrophic wildfires like the one sparked by power lines last year that killed 85 people and largely destroyed the city of Paradise.
Because the utilities’ liability can reach billions of dollars, and after several years of devastating wildfires, they asked regulators to allow them to de-energize powerlines when fire risk is extremely high. That’s mainly during periods of excessive winds and low humidity when vegetation is dried out and can easily ignite.
While the CPUC approved de-energization with a unanimous vote, the Commission told the utilities that they must do a better job educating and notifying the public, particularly those with disabilities and others who are vulnerable, and ramp up preventive efforts, such as clearing brush and installing fire-resistant poles.
The precautionary outages could mean multiday blackouts for cities as large as San Francisco and San Jose, PG&E warned in a recent filing with the Commission. PG&E initially planned to de-energize power lines in at-risk rural areas but has since expanded its plans to include high-voltage transmission lines.
Governor Newsom asked the Legislature to approve a State Budget expenditure of $75 million to help communities prepare saying “We’re worried about it because we could see people’s power shut off not for a day or two but potentially a week. This is high winds, severe weather, turn-off the electricity so it doesn’t ignite a fire. It’s a good thing — unless you’re impacted.”
The Legislature is required to approve the State spending plan by June 15 and the Governor must sign it by July 1.