California regulator to probe utilities' mass power outages aimed at preventing fires

California regulator to probe utilities
# 29 October 2019 10:52 (UTC +04:00)

California regulators said on Monday they will open a formal probe of whether utilities violated any rules by cutting power to millions of residents for days as a precaution during recent periods of high winds and heightened wildfire risks, APA reports citing Reuters.

The announcement did not single out any utilities by name, but the bulk of “public safety power shut-offs” under scrutiny were implemented by Pacific Gas and Electric Co, a unit of PG&E Corp (PCG.N), California’s largest investor-owned utility.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January, citing $30 billion in civil liability from major wildfires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018, including last year’s Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and incinerated most of the Northern California town of Paradise. That fire ranks as the state’s deadliest on record.

Responding to the latest windstorms over the weekend, PG&E turned off electricity to 970,000 homes and workplaces in 37 counties in northern and central California, encompassing millions of people across more than half of PG&E’s service area of 70,000 square miles.

That tally far surpassed the previous record planned outage of 730,000 customers during high winds two weeks ago.

Even as PG&E crews scrambled on Monday to inspect power lines and restore electricity after winds subsided, the utility announced plans for yet another round of shut-offs expected to leave as many as 605,000 customers off the grid on Tuesday and Wednesday, when extreme winds are forecast to return.

The company, which has defended the mass outages as a matter of public safety, said it had logged more than 20 preliminary reports of damage to its system from the most recent windstorm.

The precautionary blackouts have drawn sharp criticism from the governor and state regulators as being too widespread and disruptive, as well as poorly managed and communicated.