'We are not a Third World country' Officials criticize PG&E power outages

State and local officials are demanding answers-- why is PG&E taking this drastic and unprecedented step? And should they?

The reaction to Tuesday's announcement was swift and strong. PG&E had billions of dollars to maintain the power lines and make the system safe. But officials we spoke with are saying, PG&E has failed.

RELATED: PG&E to proactively shut off power to nearly 800K California customers

Criticism of PG&E's decision to cut power to as many as 800,000 customers started Tuesday morning with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

"This is the type of interruption to lives that should not happen."

Schaaf adds that the utility should have done more to maintain their power lines and avoid such a huge forced outage.

"We are going to do it because we agree it is in the interest of the safety of people, but we have got to do better."

State Senator Jerry Hill has been battling PG&E since the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion, and now, he calls the power outages "a true tragedy".

MAPS: PG&E power shutoff is affecting these Bay Area cities

"We are not a third world country," Hill told the I-Team's Dan Noyes. "We should not have to have 800,000 people's power turned off possibly for 5 days. Look at the destruction of business operation, look at the devastation of financial resources, and those that are medically indigent and are tied to their homes and need that."

Hill echoes accusations that have come from all those lawsuits filed by people who lost homes the past two years, in wildfires sparked by PG&E equipment; that the utility misspent billions of dollars earmarked to repair and harden power lines.

"For them, it's easy to say we're going to turn the power off, they turned it off," said Hill. "There's no liability if there's a fire after that, rather than providing that safe system that they haven't and that they've been paid to do."

Late today, PG&E defended the power outages and said it's taking other steps to improve its safety performance.

"This includes things like strengthening and hardening our system," said PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian. "It includes weather stations throughout our service areas, it also includes weather cameras and many other steps that we're taking."

Ratepayer advocates at The Utility Reform Network tell the I-Team, the forced outages show PG&E doesn't have confidence in their own work -- the tree trimming and grid management.

LIST: Counties, cities affected by PG&E power outage in Bay Area, rest of California

"We have spent billions of dollars and we have huge rate increases just for PG&E to fix their system," said TURN's Mark Toney. "And I think people are upset because it has not been done yet."

On top of that, Senator Jerry Hill tells the I-Team that PG&E should not be doing such a broad forced outage to 800-thousand customers; that they could be using "micro-grids" to target areas where the shut-offs are really needed.

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