Blackouts may cost state $2.6 billion, I-Team investigates

The estimates are coming in about how much this week's PG&E blackouts will cost our economy; perhaps billions of dollars.

PG&E has an image problem. They wanted to pay top executives $11 million in incentives this year even though they're bankrupt; a federal judge denied that. Now, these blackouts are costing all of us.

State Senator Jerry Hill sent a letter overnight to the California Public Utilities Commission calling for better oversight of PG&E with these forced blackouts and asking, "Why is PG&E alone in making this decision?"

RELATED: A look back at PG&E's history of blackouts

"They don't have a track record that we can trust or a track record that has shown that they have provided a safe utility," Hill said. "And that they can guarantee what they're doing is the best course of action."

Hill told the I-Team from Sacramento on Thursday that forced power outages are supposed to be a last resort, and that this week's blackout should not have been so widespread.

Dan Noyes: "It seems as if this is really a broad blackout covering so many people and so many counties. Do you think that they should've been targeted more closely to really the high-risk areas?"

Senator Hill: "Absolutely, this is supposed to be a surgical approach to those situations that are warranted."

Hill called on the PUC to perform a root-cause analysis of the decision-making that went into the blackouts. on Thursday, the president of the commission came down hard on PG&E.

"This cannot be the new normal," said CPUC President Marybel Batjer. "We can't accept it as the new normal and we won't."

RELATED: ABC7 I-Team reporter Dan Noyes asks PG&E tough questions amid public safety power shutoffs

Presidential Candidate and California Senator Kamala Harris tweeted on Thursday, "None of this is acceptable and PG&E must be held accountable for the lack of maintenance of their power lines."

A core issue seen in PG&E's Wildfire Safety Plan is replacing the bare wires that can spark a fire if they come into contact with dry vegetation or trees. The I-Team asked PG&E's head of its Wildfire Safety Program about it last night.

Dan Noyes: "How far have you come along with the hardening of the wires in the high fire threat area, because you had a marker for this year, correct?"

Sumeet Singh: "We did, sir. We had a target of 150 miles and we have completed 100 miles."

PG&E hopes to replace 600 miles of power lines next year, 7,100 in the next ten years, but there are 25,200 miles of that bare wire in high fire threat areas.

So, more blackouts will come, and we're just starting to hear estimates of how much this week's outages will hurt the state's economy.

Catherine Wolfram, of UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business said on Thursday, "I've seen numbers as high as $2.6 billion."

Wolfram tells the I-Team businesses will get more resilient, buying backup generators, for instance. But she warns that carries a price.

"If you have to buy a back-up generator in order to operate a business in California, then California becomes a lot less attractive place to operate a business, it's basically like a tax."

If California were a country, we'd have the fifth largest economy in the world. Wolfram tells me we'll only know the true cost of the blackouts, in the weeks and months to come.

For the latest stories about PG&E's Public Safety Power Shutoff go here.

For a look at more stories and videos by Dan Noyes and the ABC7 News I-Team.
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