Earlier this week, Marybel Batjer, President of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), sent a letter to William Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), and other Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs), outlining directives and immediate corrective actions following the largest Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) in California history.  Matt Kingsley, RCRC Chair and Inyo County Supervisor, drafted a letter in response, thanking President Batjer for her leadership, and expressing RCRC’s support of the outlined directives, deeming them “vital to protect public health and safety, and avoid unnecessary impacts to Californians.”  

“Our members have suffered the lion’s share of destruction caused by catastrophic wildfires over the past decade, and communities within our counties have experienced most of the state’s PSPS events,” said Kingsley.  “Communication and proper planning is key, particularly as we continue to learn more about the potential for profound impacts on California’s communities during PSPS events…  It is imperative that IOUs work more closely with local government and public safety partners.”

RCRC has been actively involved as a party in both the Wildfire Mitigation Plans Proceeding and the De-Energization Proceeding, and do not underestimate the risk of wildfire danger and appreciate the role that expertly-informed, tailored PSPS events could play in avoiding catastrophic wildfires.  However, as Chair Kingsley outlined in his letter, RCRC wholeheartedly agrees that the execution of the recent large-scale PSPS event was a failure. 

The current notification and execution of PSPS events and subsequent restoration of power unnecessarily endanger lives and property, as well as the operation of critical infrastructure.  These impacts are even more acute for low-income residents and those who rely on electricity to power medical devices.  Furthermore, rural areas are often populated by a higher percentage of elderly persons – many of whom are dependent on fixed incomes – and their local governments may lack the resources to fully mitigate the impacts of PSPS events on critical infrastructure and sensitive populations. Counties operate many critical facilities that pose a danger to public safety should they experience de-energization.

RCRC applauds a number of directives outlined in President Batjer’s letter.  In particular, RCRC believes that major utility improvements are needed in the following areas:

  • Ensuring reliable access to meaningful information about PSPS-impacted areas and service restoration times;
  • Improving communication and coordination with counties;
  • Improving identification, notification, and mitigation of needs for populations with access and functional needs;
  • Improving accuracy and availability of maps;
  • Enhancing transparency of the PSPS declaration process;
  • Reducing service restoration times; and,
  • Identifying costs resulting from PSPS events.

Chair Kingsley’s letter can be accessed here.