San Jose Mayor calls for PG&E oversight over planned blackouts

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- San Jose's Mayor is ringing alarm bells after PG&E was given full discretion by the California Public Utilities Commission on May 30 to shut down power to mitigate wildfire risks.

Known as Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), the outages could last as long as seven days. Sam Liccardo says he simply doesn't trust PG&E with that responsibility. He wants public officials to have a seat at the table when decisions are made and veto power. He says he's reached out to state legislatures to put rules in place.

RELATED: Planned PG&E power outage may have prevented wildfire in Sierra Foothills

"PG&E says to cities across Northern California, trust us, the PUC seems to be fine with that approach. Local governments, like San Jose's, have serious concerns," Liccardo said at a press conference at City Hall.

PG&E has posted a 14-page document online that details their planned procedure and suggested safety tips, in the event of a power shutoff. For example, they intend to give the public 48 hours notice before shutting down power.

They also emailed us this statement:

"We understand there are safety risks on both sides of the decision to de-energize our lines. It is not a decision we take lightly. Should we need to turn off power for safety, we will attempt to contact customers directly to provide early warning notification."

Liccardo said he wants to urge state and local officials not to take PG&E at its word, especially considering its track record. He worries the utility company will overcorrect with blackouts to protect its shareholders.

RELATED: East Bay residents concerned about PG&E wildfire program that could shutoff power

"The question ultimately is, are more people being put in peril because PG&E would be protecting its shareholders," he added, "These blackouts are serious, they're real and they involve life and death consequences and these decisions are made with the public interest in mind."

In a press release, Liccardo emphasized that:

"With this new authority, PG&E submitted a public safety power shutoff (PSPS) plan that indicated regional blackouts could last up to seven days. The plan also reduces the threshold of de-energization decisions, guaranteeing blackouts will happen more frequently. While companies like PG&E must coordinate transmission shut-offs with state and federal regulatory agencies, the companies retain full authority to decide whether and when to flip the switch and notice to emergency responders, and local governments may come with no warning. Without oversight or notification of local agencies, these extended power outages could pose intolerable public safety risks, including:

  • Loss of air-conditioning during the summer heat
  • Unreliable cell phone service that could prevent residents from calling 911
  • Senior care homes' without backup generators inability to operate respirators and other life-sustaining equipment
  • Loss of power to traffic signals and street lights, which would increase accident risk and gridlock
  • Wells and gas station pumps lacking backup generators would cease operating, leaving rural residents without water and urban commuters without gasoline."

At the press conference, Ray Riordan, San Jose's director of Emergency Services urged the public to take blackouts seriously.

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His checklist:
  • Own a set of batteries, emergency kits ready to last at least 7 days

  • Emergency food sources

  • Portable radio

  • First aid

  • Emergency water

  • Phone chargers

  • Generators

  • Gas tank half full

  • The list is not that different from what you would need in the event of an earthquake but the Mayor's concern is that we don't think of blackouts as deadly. He recalled 2003, when the Northeast blackout that affected NY, Philadelphia and Ohio claimed 100 lives and cost billions of dollars.

    Some areas lost power for days, other areas, for weeks. Liccardo says he's pursuing legislative changes at the state level and is now awaiting a response from Sacramento.
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