PG&E boss faces lawmakers as new California blackouts loom

PG&E boss faces lawmakers as new California blackouts loom

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The CEO of the nation’s largest utility faced angry California lawmakers Monday over the company’s decision to turn off power for millions of people to prevent its outdated equipment from starting wildfires.

The hearing comes as Pacific Gas & Electric plans another deliberate blackout this week to prevent strong winds from toppling its power lines and igniting blazes.

Lawmakers have repeatedly criticized the bankrupt company for leaving millions of people in the dark for days at a time during dry, windy weather last month.

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. CEO Bill Johnson was set to testify during the legislative oversight hearing at the state capitol. Johnson has defended the company’s actions as “well planned and executed,” arguing the power shutoffs have saved lives during the lengthy wildfire season.

In a statement, Johnson said that the shutoffs were “the right call in terms of safety and reduction of fire risk. I also believe that there were elements of the process that did not work well, and the criticism is deserved.” He said the company wants to improve the process and welcomes outside review.

Public officials have criticized the shutoffs for being too broad and poorly executed. Last week, state regulars launched a formal investigation.

Lawmakers were very critical of PG&E in opening statements Monday, with Sen. Scott Wiener saying, “We are in a state of emergency.”

“This company, in my mind, has forfeited it’s right to operate as an investor-owned utility,” the San Francisco Democrat said.

Meanwhile, people in Northern California were bracing for more outages. PG&E has started notifying customers in parts of 22 counties that it may turn off electricity Wednesday because of strong winds that could spark wildfires.

The latest planned blackout is expected to affect 660,000 people throughout Northern California, including the San Francisco suburbs, Sierra Nevada foothills and wine country.

PG&E is trying to emerge from bankruptcy after its equipment sparked the most devastating wildfire in California history last year, destroying roughly 19,000 buildings and killing 85 people. The company filed for bankruptcy in January after facing potential damages of up to $30 billion.

Preemptive power shutoffs are not new to California, but the scope of those by PG&E this year have been unprecedented. The company has more than 5 million customers in Northern California, including the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley. It operates about 125,000 miles (200,000 kilometres) of power lines, including many in dry, dense forests that act as fuel for fires.

Lawmakers have set a June 30 deadline for PG&E to emerge from bankruptcy or else forfeit participation in a fund designed to help cover damages from future wildfires. But negotiations have bogged down as shareholders and creditors battle in bankruptcy court over the future of the company.

A federal bankruptcy judge has appointed a mediator to try to resolve the case. But Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has threatened to intervene if the company can’t reach an agreement by June 30, including a potential state takeover.

California’s other large investor-owned utilities — San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison — also preemptively shut off power this year to prevent wildfires. But their shutoffs affected far fewer people and did not last as long.

Sen. Henry Stern questioned an Edison executive, saying his grandmother had her power shut off without warning and has medications that need to stay refrigerated.

Lawmakers also are scheduled to question several top officials from the Newsom administration, including Ana Matosantos, Newsom’s newly appointed “energy czar,” and Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

Others scheduled to testify include public school superintendents, local government leaders, business owners and advocates for the elderly and medically vulnerable.

Just Posted

Alberta has made a more detailed framework for those looking to acquire an exemption to the mandatory indoor mask bylaw. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Alberta changes requirements for mask exemptions

Masks wearing has been recommended for almost a year and provincially mandated… Continue reading

Alberta’a chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that there are more than 328,000 vaccine appointments booked over the next seven days. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta surpasses 2 million doses administered of COVID-19 vaccine

Red Deer down to 835 active cases of COVID-19

RCMP file photo (Photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)
RCMP investigating shooting near Maskwacis

Maskwacis and Wetaskiwin RCMP are seeking public assistance after a shooting has… Continue reading

Rode
Smith among impressive group of RDC soccer Queens recruits

There have been a number of cases where younger girls have developed… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools is projecting a $4-million budget deficit for 2021-22 school year. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Red Deer Public Schools prepares $124-million budget

$1 million COVID recovery plan to assist students

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

Vancouver Canucks' Nils Hoglander, right, is checked by Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom during third-period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Thursday, May 13, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Lindholm, Tkachuk lead Calgary Flames in 4-1 win over Vancouver Canucks

Lindholm, Tkachuk lead Calgary Flames in 4-1 win over Vancouver Canucks

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, right, drives to the basket against Toronto Raptors center Khem Birch, left, and guard Jalen Harris during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
LaVine, Markkanen lead Bulls past Raptors, 114-102

LaVine, Markkanen lead Bulls past Raptors, 114-102

NFL schedules get off to strong starts with Week 1 twinbills

NFL schedules get off to strong starts with Week 1 twinbills

The Saddledome, home of the Calgary Flames, is shown in Calgary, Thursday, March 12, 2020. The final three games of Canada's Secret Cup women's hockey tournament will be played in Calgary's NHL arena.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Secret Cup women’s tournament final games to be held in Calgary’s Saddledome

Secret Cup women’s tournament final games to be held in Calgary’s Saddledome

FILE - In this Thursday, July 18, 2019 file photo, Ron Francis talks to reporters in Seattle after he was introduced as the first general manager for Seattle's yet-to-be-named NHL hockey expansion team. Four years since George McPhee was a “puppet master” of the NHL leading up to the Vegas expansion draft, general managers approached this trade deadline with Seattle’s upcoming addition to the league in mind. While Kraken GM Ron Francis prepares – and maybe made a handshake deal or two already like McPhee did – Seattle was on his colleagues’ minds.(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Kraken still plan to hire coach before expansion draft

Kraken still plan to hire coach before expansion draft

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney attends a news conference in Calgary on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. Simmering internal discontent in his United Conservative caucus has boiled over into an open challenge to his leadership. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Two Alberta UCP members kicked out of caucus after challenging Kenney’s leadership

Two Alberta UCP members kicked out of caucus after challenging Kenney’s leadership

Toronto Blue Jays' Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (13) celebrates in the outfield at the end of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Thursday, May 13, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Bichette, Blue Jays rally again to beat Braves 8-4

Bichette, Blue Jays rally again to beat Braves 8-4

FILE - Jordan Spieth waits his turn to putt during the third round of the Valero Texas Open golf tournament in San Antonio, in this Saturday, April 3, 2021, file photo. Spieth will try to complete the career Grand Slam next week at the PGA Championship. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas, File)
Momentum for McIlroy, few others going into PGA Championship

Momentum for McIlroy, few others going into PGA Championship

Most Read