GOVERNOR NEWSOM ASKS CPUC TO REFORM POWER SHUT-OFF RULES, PENALIZE UTILITIES FOR EXCESSIVE OUTAGES AND MANDATE COMPENSATION FOR IMPACTED RATEPAYERS

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By Miriam Raftery

Photo: Governor Newsom met with officials and emergency responders after touring Getty Fire area in Los Angeles yesterday

October 29, 2019 (Sacramento) –San Diego rural and mountain residents weary of repeated utility-led Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) by SDG&E to prevent wildfires had complaints fall on deaf ears during Governor Jerry Brown’s administration.

By contrast, Governor Gavin Newsom has just issued a series of announced actions aimed at restricting widespread intentional outages and penalizing utilities that violate new rules that Newsom aims to impose.  In addition, Newsom called for an end to charging ratepayers during planned outages and approved funds to help compensate those left without power for losses incurred.

He also made clear that he expects the California Public Utilities Commission to take strong actions. The new Governor has appointed two new CPUC commissioners – and made clear at a press conference that he expects to see reforms, or more changes  will be made.

Yesterday, the Governor issued this statement: “I want to see the CPUC launch a total reform of power shutoff rules and regulations. Utilities must be held accountable and be aggressively penalized for their overreliance on PSPS, and the product of this investigation must be new rules and regulations to do that. I also want to see customers not charged for PSPS. It seems obvious, but under the current rules, utilities can do just that. It’s unacceptable and must be remedied.”

Also yesterday, Governor  Newsom announced the launch of a new state website with tools and resources for Californians who have been impacted by wildfires and utility-directed power shutoffs.The website, RESPONSE.CA.GOV, combines emergency response, recovery and resilience information into a single place for easy access by users. It is a one-stop portal that includes local and state resources, health services, shelters and housing, preparedness information, and more.

“California continues to rise to the challenge of power shutoffs and natural disasters,” said Governor Newsom. “RESPONSE.CA.GOV provides Californians with a unified portal for critical information during this state of emergency. This site will continuously be updated as needed to provide Californians with the resources they need.”

The actions come in a week when the Governor has declared a state of emergency for fires raging across California and secured federal disaster assistance for major fires in Los Angeles and northern California. The Governor toured the Getty Fire scene in Los Angeles yesterday, meeting with first responders and local officials.

Last week, Governor Newsom launched the  $75 million Local Government PSPS Resiliency Program to support state and local government efforts to mitigate the impact of power shutoffs by supporting continuity of operations and efforts to protect public health, safety, and commerce in affected communities with the highest vulnerability.

Half of the funds will be allocated to local governments – at least $150,000 will be awarded to all 58 counties with additional funding based on county size and experience with PSPS. The cities of Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego, and Oakland will receive $500,000 each. A total of $8 million will support competitive grants available to other incorporated cities and $1.5 million will be available in competitive grants for tribal governments.

The grant funding can be used to secure equipment, such as generators and/or generator connections, fuel storage or other backup energy sources for essential facilities, such as fire stations, community centers, health facilities and other facilities that are critical to communities’ function during energy interruptions, backup emergency communications equipment, and developing and conducting plans that better prepare communities for PSPS events, including risk assessment for critical infrastructure and equipping resource centers for the public to access. The grants will be administered by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

The program provides $37.5 million for state agencies and departments to ensure continuity of operations and public services statewide.

The Governor also announced new measures to help protect medically-vulnerable residents, including a PSPS Planning Team within the California Health and Human Services Agency, a partnership with Service Employees International Union and United Domestic Workers to ensure that In-Home Supportive Services providers are equipped with the information they need to care for some of the state’s most vulnerable, and a new resource guide outlining available resources for those in de-energization areas.​

In addition, Governor Newsom last week issued a letter to executives of the state’s three Investor-Owned Utilities (SDG&E, PG&E, and Edison International) demanding they adhere to previously-agreed protocols for PSPS decisions, and to coordinate with state and local officials to protect public safety and limit the impact of these events. He also issued a letter to PG&E CEO William Johnson demanding the utility do more to provide information for customers and take action to reduce the number of customers impacted. Earlier this month, Governor Newsom urged PG&E to provide affected customers an automatic credit or rebate of $100 per residential customer and $250 per small business as some compensation for their hardships, though PG&E has refused to do so, making clear the need for legislation to put teeth behind the concept.

Newsome also signed into law AB 1054, wildfire safety and utility reform legislation that expands the CPUC’s ability to hold utilities accountable for their safety record — a central part of the Governor’s wildfire safety actions.

The legislation created a new wildfire safety division at the CPUC and a board of independent expert advisors to more effectively regulate the safety of publicly owned utilities. The law mandated that utilities tie executive compensation to safety performanceinvest $5 billion in safety improvements without profit, and go through a new yearly wildfire safety review and certification process. It also requires new inspections of utility electrical equipment. Under the law, utilities must create a wildfire safety committee in their corporate board, and provide direct board-level safety reporting to the CPUC.

The Newsom administration has also taken action to protect Californians from wildfires including expedited wildfire prevention projects to protect 200 of California’s most wildfire-vulnerable communities. Other steps taken include:

  • Awarded $20 million in block grants to improve forest health and increase fire resiliency.
  • Joined with Governors Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington in requesting President Trump double the federal government’s financial investment in managing federal forestlands in California, Washington and Oregon.
  • Deployed the California National Guard to assist CAL FIRE with emergency hazardous fuels-management projects.
  • Launched an “Innovation Procurement Sprint” to get the most cutting-edge tools into the field and tackle the wildfire threat, resulting in two pilot projects to help modernize wildfire prevention and response.
  • Partnered with XPRIZE to design an incentive prize for innovation to battle wildfires.
  • Secured delegation of authority from the Secretary of Defense to fly Cal Guard’s infrared equipped Unmanned Aerial System in support of CAL FIRE missions.
  • Partnered with the federal government to secure state access to satellite-based technology to detect wildfire ignitions.
  • Accelerated publication of new Emergency Alert and Warning Guidelines, ahead of wildfire season.

The Governor worked with the Legislature to enact laws that will make California more resilient to wildfires and hold utilities accountable. The bills reflect the recommendations from the Governor’s Strike Force report: 

  • AB 1054 by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) holds PG&E accountable for prioritizing safety and requires the California Public Utilities Commission to take a number of actions to require our investor-owned utilities make investments in wildfire prevention and response. AB 1054’s provisions include:
    • Improve the investor-owned utilities’ assessment of wildfire risk and match increased investments to risk reduction through the Wildfire Mitigation Plan process.
    • Improve safety expertise, by creating a new wildfire safety division at the CPUC, which will transition to a separate Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety in the Natural Resources Agency in two years. (Combined with AB 111, AB 1054’s companion bill)
    • Create the California Wildfire Safety Advisory Board, a panel of world-class experts in wildfire risk and utility infrastructure, to advise the wildfire safety division to ensure the strongest possible standards are put in place, and the utilities are held to them.
    • Ensure oversight of the utilities’ plans, require utilities to invest in wildfire prevention and eliminate shareholder profit on $5 billion of safety investments.
    • Hold utilities to an increasingly stringent safety standard, which includes requirements to tie executive compensation to safety, safety culture improvements and direct reporting to the CPUC by members of the investor-owned utility boards of directors.
  • AB 38 by Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) provides mechanisms to develop best practices for community-wide resilience against wildfires through home hardening, defensible space, and other measures.
  • SB 190 by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) includes a specific requirement to develop best models for defensible space and additional standards for home hardening and construction materials to increase the resilience of communities.
  • SB 70 by Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) requires IOUs to include information about consideration of undergrounding utility lines in their Wildfire Mitigation Plans (WMPs).
  • SB 167 by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) requires IOUs to improve their WMPs by including specified requirements to mitigate the impacts of PSPS.
  • SB 247 by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) requires increased oversight of the IOUs’ WMPs, enhances requirements for fair wages and improves safety by ensuring a skilled and trained workforce.
  • SB 209 by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) requires establishment of a new weather technology center modeled after the state’s intelligence fusion centers.
  • AB 836 by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) establishes a program for retrofits of air ventilation systems to create community clean air centers, prioritizing areas with high cumulative smoke exposure burden.
  • AB 661 by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) requires the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District to prepare a wildfire smoke air pollution emergency plan to serve as an informational source for local agencies and the public during an air pollution emergency caused by wildfire smoke.
  • SB 560 by Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) will mitigate impacts of PSPS.
  • SB 160 by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) will improve engagement with culturally diverse communities for local emergency planning.
  • SB 670 by Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) will improve the coordination of emergency communication systems during 9-1-1 outages.
  • SB 632 by Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) sets a deadline for completion of CAL FIRE’s vegetation management environmental review.
  • AB 1823 by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) which facilitates fuel reduction and other forest health projects.

The Governor’s budget made vital investments in resilience to help the state prepare for wildfires: 

  • $75 million to build resiliency and surge capacity among state and local government agencies in in the event of a utility company’s decision to initiate a Public Safety Power Shutoff.
  • $38.7 million to expand the state’s capacity for emergency response
  • $730,000 to help streamline hazardous fuel treatment programs.
  • $41 million to fund inspections and improve review of utility companies’ wildfire mitigation programs.
  • $225.8 million, from cap-and-trade revenues and General Fund, for forest health, fuel reduction and other wildfire prevention efforts — including $200 million of SB 901 funds allocated annually for 5 years.
  • $50 million for Listos California, a new emergency preparedness outreach campaign.
  • $60 million, including $10 million in FY19 and a revised fee structure that goes into effect next year, to upgrade California’s archaic 9-1-1 system and $1 million for first responder broadband network and integration with the 9-1-1 system.
  • $67.5 million to expand firefighting surge capacity.
  • $127.2 million for C-130 Air Tankers and twenty-first century firefighting helicopters.
  • $130.3 million for better communication equipment for first responders.
  • $24.7 million for CAL FIRE to procure innovation solutions to the wildfire crisis via the Innovation Procurement Sprint, operate Fire Detection Cameras, and enhance Situational Awareness Staffing.
  • $711,000 for a statewide Disaster Reserve Corps.