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PG&E CEO says it can inflict Blackouts in California for a decade



PG&E Corp.


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The CEO said on Friday that it can take as long as 10 years for the company to improve its electrical system sufficiently to significantly reduce the need to plug in customers to reduce the risk of sparks.

Bill Johnson,

who joined the company in May, was revealed at a California public accounting committee hearing, where the panel chair,

Marybel Batjer,

sharply criticized the company's "inadequate enforcement" of a shutdown where it turned off power to much of northern California for more than two days last week.

The Commission convened an emergency meeting to investigate PG&E's handling of the Great Blackout, which left about two million people in the dark, creating widespread devastation from the Bay Area to the northern parts of the state. Several of the company's senior executives were called to describe the problems and take questions from regulators.

"I can tell you that you failed on so many levels on pretty simple things," Batjer said.

The agency earlier this week ordered PG&E to address many problems with its strategy for such blackouts, so-called public safety shutdowns. It condemned the company's failure to provide maps and other critical information to residents and local officials prior to the shutdown. PG&E's website crashed for two days during the blackout, and its call center became overwhelmed.

Mr. Johnson on Friday apologized for the difficulties caused by the shutdown but defended the company's decision to implement it, noting that none of its power lines led to fires, although strong winds in some areas caused damage to its system.

The right security decision is not the same as making that decision well, he said. "PG&E must be better prepared than it was this time."

PG&E, which provides gas and electricity to 1

6 million people, shuts off power to more than 700,000 homes and businesses pending strong winds that could have increased the chances because its power lines catch fire. The company's equipment has led to 19 major fires during windy periods in 2017 and 2018, mainly due to vegetation blowing into living pipes.

PG&E is not the only California utility that installs shutdowns to reduce the risk of fires. Edison International's Southern California Edison and Sempra Energy's San Diego Gas & Electric have also recently suspended power in response to windy conditions. But PG&E is the only American tool that has initiated a weather-related blackout on such a large scale.

The decision drew legislators and local officials who have urged PG&E to act more cautiously to implement future shutdowns. A group of Northern California governments, including the Napa and Sonoma counties, on Thursday submitted an appreciation committee to the Tool Commission, which told PG&E of its lack of preparedness.

"The experience of working with PG&E to make real changes in its development of the energy program has been like fighting Hydra," it reads. "This must stop." cutting trees near power lines and upgrading equipment over its 70,000-square-mile service territory, following prolonged drying this decade, turned millions of acres of forest into a soothing box.

Another major fire that was tied to PG&E's equipment would be It probably filed for bankruptcy, seeking bankruptcy protection in January, citing more than $ 30 billion in liability costs stemming from the 2017 and 2018 fires, which killed more than 100 people.

At Friday's meeting, commissioners questioned the company's commitment to its customers and how long it expects to use its shutdown strategy egi on such a large scale.

Mr. Johnson said the tool works to limit the scope of future shutdowns by cutting more trees and installing technology to allow for the shutdown of smaller, more targeted sections of the network. But he estimated that it will take as long as a decade before its shutdowns will "have been significantly down."

"We will get better every year," he said.

PG&E is already behind several of the most important security measures, shows registers, including this year's tree-cutting campaign, which is less than 50% completed. It also tracks its peers in technology to detect winds and isolate the areas where equipment is at the highest risk of sparking fires.

Although the company warned of continued shutdown, it works to limit their duration.

Michael Lewis,

PG&E's senior vice president of electrical operations, said the company, which previously advised customers to prepare for shutdowns that last as long as five days, will work to restore power within 48 hours of initiating a shutdown.

"We now acknowledge that five days as a benchmark is unacceptable, he said.

Write to Katherine Blunt at [email protected]

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