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Utilities’ Bungled Fire Prevention Power Outages Could Mean New Rules

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Power poles that burned in the Thomas Fire in December 2017 dangle above Highway 150. (Sharon McNary/LAist)
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You may be among the more than 2 million utility customers who experienced last year’s dreaded PSPS – Public Safety Power Shutoff. That’s when utilities pulled the plug on their power grid to reduce the chance of sparking fires during times of high wind, low humidity and high temperatures.

Utilities have had the ability to cut power on red flag days for years, but 2019 was the first year that they imposed extensive outages on the populace. That was after big utilities like Southern California Edison and PG&E were blamed for billions of dollars in fire damage in 2017 and 2018.

More than 200,000 customers of SoCal Edison were in the dark during the highest fire risk days of last year from about September through November. As you might expect, customers complained.

Now, the California Public Utilities Commission is revisiting the shutoffs with a set of proposed new guidelines in response to the complaints that the outages lasted too long and caused some residents to also lose their cell phone and water service.

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The proposed guidelines include:

  • Power to be turned back on within 24 hours after end of red flag conditions.
  • Utilities to do a more thorough job of communicating about the outages with the public.
  • Specific thought must be given to vulnerable populations like those who need to refrigerate medicines.
  • Better communication with phone and internet companies, local police, fire and social services agencies.

What you can do:

The CPUC is taking public comment about the public safety power shutoffs (read the current rules here) and proposed new rules. Just email public.advisor@cpuc.ca.gov, and mention proceeding number R.18-12-005.

GO DEEPER: