PG&E Power Outage: State lawmakers press utility on reducing Public Safety Power Shutoff events

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGO) -- How ready is PG&E to communicate the next round of power shutoffs? Utility executives told lawmakers in Sacramento on Monday that they're doing better. They also outlined why it's going to take years before its transmission and distribution system can be upgraded.

Mirroring the lack of confidence and the impatience of customers, lawmakers on the state senate's energy and utilities committee wanted answers from PG&E executives. What did they learn from the Public Safety Power Shutdowns, and how can they be less disruptive in the future?

CEO Bill Johnson said, as he has before, that they're getting better at communicating with customers and that improvements are being made to make its distribution system safer. The problem could be its high-tension lines.

LIST: Areas affected by PG&E power outage in California

"We have a tremendous amount of 60 to 70 Kv transmission and a lot of transmission that you cannot really put underground so this is really limited to distribution," he said.

Bay Area lawmakers had the toughest questions since their districts lie within the PG&E service area. They expressed a need to accelerate improvements to PG&E's network and to vegetation management. PG&E executives said they're installing more weather monitors and improving communications of PSPS events, but it still could take five years before the utility will be, in the company's words, in "a good place."

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Concerns were also raised how internet-based communications system went down, leaving some customers without ways to get power outage and restoration updates or to call for emergency help.

CEO Johnson acknowledged that the state has the power to revoke its utility franchise, but he's hopeful that PG&E will emerge from bankruptcy with a different vision.

"I'm open to any response that serves the needs best of the people of Northern California," he said. "I do work for the shareholders at the moment so let's not kid ourselves about that."

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