PG&E CEO Says It Could Impose Blackouts in California for a Decade
By Katherine Blunt
PG&E Corp.'s chief executive said Friday that it could take
as long as 10 years for the company to improve its electric system
enough to significantly diminish the need to pull the plug on
customers to reduce the risk of sparking fires.
Bill Johnson, who joined the company in May, made the disclosure
at a California Public Utilities Commission hearing where the
panel's president, Marybel Batjer, sharply criticized the company's
"inadequate execution" of a shutoff in which it turned off power to
large portions of Northern California for more than two days last
The commission convened an emergency meeting to examine
PG&E's handling of the massive blackout, which left roughly 2
million people in the dark and created widespread havoc from the
Bay Area to the northern reaches of the state. Several of the
company's top executives were summoned to detail the problems and
take questions from regulators.
"I can tell you that you guys failed on so many levels on fairly
simple stuff," Ms. Batjer said.
The agency earlier this week ordered PG&E to address
numerous problems with its strategy for such blackouts, known as
public safety power shutoffs. It condemned the company's failure to
provide maps and other critical information to residents and local
officials ahead of the shutoff. PG&E's website crashed for two
days during the blackout, and its call centers were
Mr. Johnson on Friday apologized for the hardships caused by the
shutoff but defended the company's decision to implement it, noting
that none of its power lines sparked fires, even though strong
winds in certain areas caused damage to its system.
"Making the right decision on safety is not the same as
executing that decision well," he said. "PG&E has to be better
prepared than it was this time."
PG&E, which provides gas and electricity to 16 million
people, shut off the power to more than 700,000 homes and
businesses in anticipation of strong winds that could have
increased the chances of its power lines sparking fires. The
company's equipment has sparked 19 major fires during windy periods
in 2017 and 2018, mostly because vegetation blew into live
For now, the shutoffs will continue as PG&E scrambles to
trim trees near power lines and upgrade equipment across its
70,000-square-mile service territory, after a protracted drought
this decade turned millions of acres of forest into a
Mr. Johnson said the utility is working to limit the scope of
future shutoffs by trimming more trees and installing technology to
enable the shutdown of smaller, more targeted portions of the grid.
But he estimated it will take as long as a decade before its
shutoffs will have "ratcheted down significantly."
Write to Katherine Blunt at Katherine.Blunt@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 18, 2019 18:51 ET (22:51 GMT)
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