California

PG&E won’t reimburse customers affected by blackouts, rejecting appeal from Gavin Newsom

PG&E says it does not plan to reimburse Californians affected during its blackout earlier this month, a spokeswoman said Tuesday in response to renewed requests by Gov. Gavin Newsom to compensate residents.

Issuing credits for the shutoff that began Oct. 9 would complicate the utility’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said.

“Consistent with our policies and the state’s electric tariffs regarding weather-related outages, we are not considering reimbursements or bill credits,” Paulo wrote in a statement.

Newsom first asked for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to pay $100 credits to households and $250 credits to small businesses affected during the massive power shutoff and reiterated the request in a letter he sent Tuesday to PG&E’s CEO William Johnson.

The letter, written a day after the utility announced it could cut power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses, demands the utility limit its shutoffs and give residents more warning ahead of planned blackouts.

PG&E’s previous outage cut power to an estimated 1.5 million Californians. In the new letter, Newsom accuses the utility of failing to adequately invest in preventing fires and maintain its electrical equipment.

“I believe the unacceptable scope and duration of the previous outage — deliberately forcing 735,000 customers to endure power outages — was the direct result of decades of PG&E prioritizing profit over public safety,” Newsom wrote, referring to the number of businesses and households affected, not the total number of people. “PG&E’s lapse in planning to provide adequate, accurate, and accessible information to its customers and the public was inexcusable.”

PG&E announced Monday that it again might cut power to parts of its electrical grid Wednesday as a precaution against strong winds that could damage its equipment and cause another wildfire.

The “sole intent” of the blackouts is to prevent fires and that the company is listening to the feedback from Newsom’s office and affected customers, Paulo said.

“We’ve taken those requests and suggestions seriously and are working to implement many of them for this and future (shutoff) events,” she said. “Right now, we are focused on keeping our customers and communities safe from wildfire risk during what could be another significant wind event and are working to reduce the scope and duration of the safety outage.”

Newsom is asking the utility to improve its website so that its customers are better informed about whether power outages will affect them and how long they are expected to last.

His letter comes on the heels of threats he’s made to crack down on the utility through the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

Newsom and lawmakers are under pressure to address the blackouts, which have prompted outrage across Northern and Central California.

While power was still out earlier this month, Newsom said he did not believe the blackouts were politically motivated.

”No, my gosh, that would be another level of outrage if that were the why,” Newsom told reporters, noting that although PG&E shutoffs were the most widespread, they coincided with shutoffs at two other major California utilities.

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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