Following Blackouts, California and PG&E Battle it Out

Following the unprecedented power blackout by PG&E during the week of Oct. 7 that affected almost 800,000 homes and businesses, up to a total of 2 million people in the state, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued a scathing letter to the utility on Oct. 14 and scheduled a special meeting on Oct.18 with PG&E to discuss the problems associated with the blackout and expectations for the future.

In the letter, CPUC President Marybel Batjer ordered PG&E to take a number of immediate corrective actions after it encountered significant problems with communication, coordination, and management during the state’s largest Public Safety Power Shut-off (PSPS).

“Failure in execution, combined with the magnitude of this PSPS event, created an unacceptable situation that should never be repeated,” said President Batjer. “The scope, scale, complexity, and overall impact to people’s lives, businesses, and the economy of this action cannot be understated.”

President Batjer and CPUC officials outlined seven major areas where immediate corrective actions are required.

These include:

  • accelerating the restoration of power with a goal of less than 12 hours
  • enhancing efforts to minimize the size and magnitude of future PSPS events
  • developing systems and protocols to ensure that public information through call centers and PG&E’s website is available during high-volume critical times
  • establishing a more effective communication structure with county and tribal government emergency management personnel to allow for emergency personnel to receive support and information required to properly respond
  • improving processes and systems for distributing maps with boundaries to impacted counties and tribal governments that correspond to the latest PSPS impact information being provided
  • developing a list of existing and possible future agreements for on-call resources that can be called upon in case of an emergency
  • ensuring that PG&E personnel involved in PSPS response in Emergency Operations Centers are trained in California’s Standardized Emergency Management System

Batjer also directed PG&E to perform and file a review of the incident by Oct.17 as well as file weekly updates until the concerns have been addressed.

During the Oct. 18 special meeting, PG&E stated, “We’ve made this decision a handful of times in the past couple of years, and unfortunately we will likely need to continue doing so in the near-term for the sake of public safety. So, we need to keep getting better at doing it. We need to make it as minimally disruptive as possible by making it more targeted and restoring power more quickly. We operate an electric system in a growing tinderbox.”

PG&E also noted that it could take certain actions to minimize future disruptions, such as sectionalizing equipment, particularly on sub-transmission lines, using different materials to coat power lines, increasing vegetation management, and installing more microgrids in its system.

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