PG&E won't pay claims for losses suffered by Calistoga businesses during power cuts

CALISTOGA, Calif. (KGO) -- PG&E sent out alerts to many Calistoga residents and businesses, warning them of power cuts scheduled for Thursday due to threat of wildfires. But it's not clear now if the power will actually be shut off as weather conditions have improved.

However, the same thing happened three weeks ago. There was no fire, but many small businesses lost tens of thousands of dollars in revenue and inventory when downtown went dark.

RELATED: High fire danger may cause some in North Bay to lose power

Clive Richardson, who has owned Calistoga Roastery coffee shop for the past 26 years, says he lost $3,000 in inventory and revenue in one day. And then, his insurance policy.

"They basically said, 'Thank you very much.' Their fear is PG&E doing this on a regular basis, so they're not going to cover that," he said.

Richardson was among the many small business owners who attended Wednesday night's town hall hosted by PG&E in response to recent power cuts. But many didn't like what PG&E had to say.

"We are not planning to pay claims," explains one of PG&E's spokespeople during the main powerpoint presentation.

On Oct. 14, PG&E cut power to Calistoga as part of their new PSPS program, or Public Safety Power Shutdown.

That's when PG&E shuts off power to communities facing the risk of wildfires.

Residents understand protecting communities comes first but are demanding more to compensate small businesses hit with big losses.

"We hear their feedback and hear their concerns, and want to keep line of communication open," says Deena Contreras, a PG&E spokesperson. She P.S.P.S. is still a work in progress, adding cutting power is, "a decision of last resort," and ultimately about public safety.

For its part, PG&E is already working with community leaders on solutions. One of the outcomes of their meeting is alert residents and businesses sooner of possible outrages, so they plan ahead and make arrangements accordingly. That was big issue in the October outage. Another is to keep off power for shorter periods of time.

Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning says he was skeptical at first, but is encouraged by their progress. Another solution they have come up with is to use a generator to keep power on downtown.

"So, when that transmission line shuts down, (the generator) hooks up and can power our town," explains Canning.

Richardson understands that wildfire threats is the "new normal" for California. But he says PG&E has been around for over a century, and blames the public utility company for not being proactive.

"They have done very little for so long, and it seems like, if we are going to be on their learning curve, they could at least compensate us until they figure something out," says Richardson.

Calistoga's mayor says he is impressed with how quickly PG&E has been to make changes, but admits that it's unlikely that any solution will include compensation for lost business revenue.

Visit this page to learn if you'll be affected by the power cuts.
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