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PG&E tells regulators upcoming outages will go more smoothly

The public was invited to attend the virtual meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., and viewers will be allowed to speak and ask questions.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Officials with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) hosted a virtual meeting on Thursday, Aug. 13, to announce their revised plans for possible Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) in 2020.

The public was invited to attend the virtual meeting and viewers were allowed to speak and ask questions during a planned public comment session at the end of the meeting. PG&E initiated a number of power shutoffs in 2019 in an attempt to preemptively prevent wildfires caused by its equipment when fire weather conditions are at their most extreme.

“If severe weather threatens a portion of the electric system, it may be necessary for PG&E to turn off electricity in the interest of public safety,” the company says on its web page about PSPS.

During the virtual meeting, PG&E promised regulators that it has learned from its mishandling of deliberate blackouts and won't disrupt as many people’s lives during the pandemic this year. 

According to PG&E, the conditions that would cause a power shutoff is “high temperatures, extreme dryness, and record-high winds…where any spark at the wrong time and place can lead to a major wildfire.” On at least three occasions in 2019, PG&E shut off power to tens of thousands of Californians across the state. This year PG&E officials say things will be different. The utility again expects to rely on outages to prevent its outdated grid from starting deadly fires. 

“We are learning from past events. This year, PG&E is improving our PSPS program by making events smaller in size, shorter in length and smarter for our customers,” the company said.

Adding to the difficulty of possible power shutoffs is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. With their power shut off, people could be forced out of their homes because of the temperature, a lack of fresh food, and a lack of power for medical equipment. Residents could also be forced to evacuate from an active wildfire. 

"It could happen and we have to plan that it will happen," CAL FIRE Deputy Director Mike Mohler told ABC10 in May. "Our primary job is to protect the public. And if we put them in an area and don’t exercise that self-distancing, in so many words, we’ve started another incident."

Though lacking in detail, PG&E briefly addresses this possibility on its website.

“We are determined to do everything possible to address both the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of catastrophic wildfires. Our overriding goal is to ensure public safety and Public Safety Power Shutoff is an important tool for doing so,” PG&E said.

Scroll down to see a copy of the agenda.

PG&E's chief regulator is trying to avoid a repeat of last autumn's bungled blackouts that inconvenienced and infuriated more than 2 million Northern Californians. A PG&E executive predicted this year's expected blackouts will affect far fewer customers and won't last nearly as long.

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