Updated Jun 16, 2022 - Energy & Environment

California regulator to fine utilities $22M over power shutoffs

A sign calling for PG&E to turn the power back on is seen on the side of the road during a statewide blackout in Calistoga, California, on October, 10, 2019

A sign calling for PG&E to turn the power back on displayed on the side of a road during a statewide blackout in Calistoga, California, in October 2019. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

The California Public Utilities Commission announced plans Wednesday to fine three state utility companies more than $22 million in total for the "poor execution" of power shutoffs aimed at preventing wildfires in 2020.

Driving the news: The CPUC proposed fining Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) $12 million, Southern California Edison $10 million and San Diego Gas & Electric $24,000 and ordered the companies to take corrective action, per a statement from the regulator.

  • The action concerns 26 separate shutoff events across the service areas of three utilities and those of PacifiCorp, which was also directed to take corrective action, though the CPUC did not issue a fine.

Why it matters: The pre-emptive shutdowns of the three utilities now facing fines ignited anger in 2019. PG&E came in for particular criticism from the regulator at the time for shutoffs that affected roughly 2 million people and the CPUC told the company the "unacceptable situation that should never be repeated."

  • The utility was later fined $106 million for those guidelines violations and AP notes that the regulator has found multiple violations by the firms in 2020 — including PG&E failing to properly notify customers about the shutoffs or listing incorrect times for electricity restoration.

What they're saying: A spokesperson for Southern California Edison said in an emailed statement that the regulator's order was "counter-productive" because it focused on the early stages of the company's public safety power shutoff and "not on the tremendous progress made since."

  • He called the proposed fine "excessive and unnecessary" as the rules governing the shutoffs were still evolving "and the company has made significant improvements and progress since" those events.
  • The other utilities did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Where it stands: The companies have 30 days to pay the fine and/or make the corrective actions or request a hearing.

The big picture: Power lines have been linked to some of California's most destructive wildfires.

  • PG&E has been criticized for poor utility management and been hit with tens of millions of dollars in fines.
  • It announced plans last year to bury 10,000 miles of its power lines to reduce its future liability for damages from wildfires sparked by its equipment.

The bottom line: The shutoff problems underscore the issue of how power companies need to confront risks heightened by climate change, which scientists have found to be the main driver behind wildfire weather in the U.S. West, per Axios' Andrew Freedman.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Southern California Edison.

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