PG&E CEO Says It Could Impose Blackouts in California for a Decade

Date : 10/18/2019 @ 11:06PM
Source : Dow Jones News
Stock : Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PCG)
Quote : 11.18  1.53 (15.85%) @ 12:47AM
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PG&E CEO Says It Could Impose Blackouts in California for a Decade

Pacific Gas and Electric (NYSE:PCG)
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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 week.

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 overwhelmed.

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 wires.

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 tinderbox.

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)

Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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