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Gov. Newsom, PG&E give mixed messages on paying for shutoff losses

Gov. Gavin Newsom hinted that PG&E executives are preparing to pay for losses but PG&E still says Friday that its customers will be the ones to eat that cost.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-California) hinted that PG&E executives are preparing to pay for losses like spoiled food caused by this week's massive power shutoffs, but PG&E still says Friday that its customers will be the ones to eat that cost.

"[There's] no change in policy," PG&E spokesperson Brandi Merlo told ABC10 Friday. "We do not reimburse customers for losses associated with [planned shutoff] events."

That flies in the face of what Newsom told reporters on Thursday evening.

"[PG&E] said something differently to us," Newsom said shortly after speaking with PG&E's CEO Bill Johnson on the phone. "I believe [customers] should be compensated and we will pursue that."

The governor's office did not immediately respond to ABC10's questions about the discrepancy on Friday as the power was being switched back on for many of the more than 2 million people affected, many of whom spent Friday cleaning out and re-stocking their refrigerators.

PG&E has remained consistent throughout the shutdown in its position, saying that it will not pay for losses caused by this round of shutoffs. The company explained that's because it's a weather-related event.


Pressed to justify that position in light of the fact that PG&E has a lengthy track record of failing to properly maintain its equipment and trim trees to a safe distance from power lines as required by law, PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith called those facts "backward-looking" in an interview with ABC10.

Asked whether PG&E is even considering the possibility of changing its non-reimbursement policy, Merlo said Friday that "we are open to feedback and understand this is a hardship, but don't have current plans to change this policy."

Newsom, who has talked tough on PG&E before but also declined to answer questions about the $208,000 that PG&E donated toward his election campaign, dialed up his criticism to a new level.

The governor blasted PG&E for a history of putting profits over safety Thursday, saying the shutoffs are "not a climate change story as much as a story about greed and mismanagement over the course of decades."

PG&E is currently under federal court supervision and serving a sentence of probation for six federal felonies connected to the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion.

Eight people died in that disaster and the state blames the company for starting wildfires that killed 107 people in 2017 and 2018.

Follow the conversation on Facebook with Brandon Rittiman. 

Be sure to check out Brandon Rittiman's "Fire Power Money" series, which breaks down California's history of wildfires, Pacific Gas and Electric Company's court issues, and politicians' roles in regulating the utility company. 


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