Group says PG&E decision to cut off power to 800,000 comes from years of irresponsible decisions

By Dan Bacher | 

Oakland — Food and Water Watch Action blasted the decision of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) to cut off power to 800,000 Californians to avoid wildfire dangers, saying it comes comes from “years of irresponsible decisions” that put profits over the public interest. 

The group, the political advocacy arm of the research and education organization Food & Water Watch. also criticized what it described as California Governor Newsom’s “bailout of PG&E shareholders under the guise of a wildfire insurance fund” for fueling the crisis created by the power shutoffs to many Californians.

Earlier this week PG&E issued a statement confirming that it has implemented the first phase of a “Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS)” across significant portions of its service area in response to a “widespread, severe wind event.” 

“The Public Safety Power Shutoff will occur in three phases, with the first phase impacting approximately 513,000 customers beginning at 12 a.m. Wednesday morning. Customer impacts will include: Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo and Yuba,” PG&E stated.

“The second phase of the Public Safety Power Shutoff will occur around 12:00 pm on Wednesday afternoon, impacting service to approximately 234,000 customers in the following counties: Alameda, Alpine, Contra Costa, Mariposa, San Joaquin, San Mateo and Santa Clara,” the company said.

PG&E also said “a third phase is being considered for the southernmost portions of PG&E's service area, impacting approximately 42,000 customers. Specific locations are still to be determined.”

The company said the  decision to turn off power was “based on forecasts of dry, hot and windy weather including potential fire risk.”

“Based on the latest weather forecasts and models, PG&E anticipates that this weather event will last through midday Thursday, with peak winds forecasted from Wednesday morning through Thursday morning and reaching 60 to 70 mph at higher elevations,” the company said.

"The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our most important responsibility, which is why PG&E has decided to turn power off to customers during this widespread, severe wind event. We understand the effects this event will have on our customers and appreciate the public's patience as we do what is necessary to keep our communities safe and reduce the risk of wildfire," claimed Michael Lewis, PG&E's senior vice president of Electric Operations.

However, in response, Food and Water Watch Action said the solution to risky power lines is instead more wind, solar and distributed battery storage.

“Governor Newsom’s bailout of PG&E shareholders under the guise of a wildfire insurance fund is fueling the crisis we see here today,” said Food & Water Action California State Director Alexandra Nagy in a statement. “Instead, he could have used his power as Governor to take over the utility and run it to serve the residents of California and not Wall Street investors.”

“Turning out the lights for weeks at a time will become the new normal for California residents unless the state takes action to build a more sustainable energy system. Distributed generation from clean, renewable energy and storage can help reduce reliance on large scale distribution lines and increase reliability--not to mention the added benefits of cleaner air, a more stable climate, and lower energy costs associated with clean, renewable energy,” Nagy concluded.

In July, the California Legislature passed AB1054, a controversial bill that Nagy described as “a far reaching ratepayer bailout for investor-owned utilities.” Nagy said the governor and state legislators “jammed” this bill through without adequate time for public review or comment. 

“Moving faster than a wildfire across the Sierra Nevada, the legislature and Governor Newsom rushed through the bill before the public knew what hit them. AB 1054 weakens PUC oversight, while virtually guaranteeing that our electric bills will go up, since ratepayers are left holding the bag for billions in bonds and future wildfire costs,” said Nagy.

Food and Water Action mobilizes people “to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water and climate problems of our time,” according to the group.

Copyright by Elk Grove News © 2019. All right reserved.

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