CEO of Nation’s Largest Utility to Testify about Power Outages

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. CEO Bill Johnson to testify on Monday

 

Pacific Gas & Electric CEO Bill Johnson speaks with reporters after meeting with California Gov. Gavin Newsom in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Newsom is trying to speed up PG&E’s bankruptcy case so it can be resolved by next year’s wildfire season. (AP Photo/Adam Beam)

 

By ADAM BEAM Associated Press

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California lawmakers on Monday over the company’s decision to turn off power for millions of people to prevent its outdated equipment from starting wildfires.

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. CEO Bill Johnson is scheduled to testify during a Legislative oversight hearing on Monday at the state Capitol. Lawmakers have repeatedly criticized the bankrupt company for leaving millions of people in the dark for days at a time during dry, windy weather events in October.

See also  Oregon Has Mild Wildfire Season

Johnson has defended the company’s actions as “well planned and executed,” arguing the power shutoffs have saved lives during the state’s lengthy wildfire season.

In a statement, Johnson said that the power 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. In case we need to invoke PSPS (public safety power shutoffs) in the future, we want to improve the process and thus we strongly welcome external review of our PSPS plan, practices, and actions during the recent event.”

But public officials have criticized the shutoffs for being too broad and poorly executed. Last week, the Public Utilities Commission launched a formal investigation.

“It’s beyond time to hold PG&E accountable,” Democratic state Sen. Mike McGuire said last month. McGuire is one of the lawmakers scheduled to question Johnson and others on Monday.

See also  Wasatch Helitack Crew 2018 Wildfire Season

The hearing comes as 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 faces potential damages of up to $30 billion.

Pre-emptive power shutoffs are not new to California, but the scope of PG&E’s shutoffs 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 of power lines, including many in dry, dense forests that act as fuel for fires.

The state Legislature has 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 the company’s shareholders and creditors are battling in bankruptcy court for the future of the company.

See also  Wildfire Forces Evacuation of 150 Homes in Small Arizona Town

A federal bankruptcy judge has appointed a mediator to try and 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. Executives from those companies are scheduled to appear with Johnson at the hearing, along with other high-ranking officers at PG&E.

Lawmakers are also 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.

All contents © copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Topics

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. CEO Bill Johnson to testify on Monday     By ADAM BEAM Associated Press SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The CEO of the nation’s largest utility is expected to face angry California lawmakers on Monday over the company’s decision to turn off power for millions of people to prevent its outdated […]

Get The Wildland Firefighter Newsletter

Related Articles

Drone Halts Helicopter Response to OR Fire

Drone Halts Helicopter Response to OR Fire

David Smigelski - Mail Tribune, Medford, Ore. Sep. 13—A helicopter was forced from the air in the middle of a firefight Monday when a drone appeared over a fire burning on Pioneer Road. Jackson County Fire District No. 5 and the Oregon Department of Forestry Southwest...

OR Adopts CA Fire Tactic, Shutting Power Amid High Winds

OR Adopts CA Fire Tactic, Shutting Power Amid High Winds

By GILLIAN FLACCUS Associated Press PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon utilities shut down power to tens of thousands of customers on Friday as dry easterly winds swept into the region in the hopes that it would lessen the risk of wildfires in extremely dry and hot...