Were Cal­i­for­nia’s power out­ages worth it?

Lodi News-Sentinel - - OPINION -

coun­ties, bungling com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the pub­lic and prompt­ing ques­tions about whether the weather in the end had jus­ti­fied such an ex­treme re­ac­tion. The PG&E shut­downs were stag­ger­ingly broad in scope, af­fect­ing hun­dreds of hos­pi­tals, thou­sands of home­bound ill and in­firm Cal­i­for­ni­ans and hun­dreds of thou­sands of stu­dents whose schools were tem­po­rar­ily closed. All this by a com­pany that has lagged badly on its tree-trim­ming ef­forts and other fire safety pro­grams.

Now that the winds have died down, state of­fi­cials should hold util­i­ties ex­ec­u­tives to ac­count for an­swers. Gov. Gavin New­som on Mon­day asked the Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion to un­der­take an im­me­di­ate re­view of PG&E's out­age of 738,000 cus­tomers. And it should do so, ideally, be­fore the Santa Ana and Di­ablo winds re­turn.

The re­view should in­clude Edi­son's out­ages as well. Edi­son was much less ag­gres­sive, shut­ting down power to only 24,113 cus­tomers at the peak, but the out­ages were still dis­rup­tive.

Among the ques­tions that need an­swer­ing is why the power was cut to some com­mu­ni­ties and not oth­ers. We know that shut­ting down power lines has rip­ple ef­fects, but with­out ex­pla­na­tion, the out­ages felt ran­dom. Also, why were the util­i­ties not bet­ter pre­pared to com­mu­ni­cate with cus­tomers about what was com­ing? Edi­son and PG&E had been work­ing with the PUC for more than a year to ham­mer out rules gov­ern­ing "pub­lic safety power shut­downs." Yet last week, both had web­site prob­lems when cus­tomers logged on to find out if they were on the out­age list. Hon­estly, th­ese two util­i­ties col­lec­tively serve most of Cal­i­for­nia. How could they not have fore­seen this de­mand for in­for­ma­tion?

But the most im­por­tant ques­tion to be an­swered is whether the out­ages ac­com­plished any­thing. PG&E's equip­ment didn't start any fires last week, but that might have been the case even if the lights had stayed on. Mean­while, thou­sands of South­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans had their power cut, but the power con­tin­ued to flow through lines at the ig­ni­tion point of the Sad­dleridge fire near Syl­mar. It's still too early to say if those live wires caused the fire, but Edi­son re­ported that they were mal­func­tion­ing.

New­som has called on PG&E to of­fer a $100 credit to res­i­den­tial cus­tomers and $250 to busi­nesses left in the dark last week. That's a nice ges­ture, but we think it would be even bet­ter if peo­ple could feel con­fi­dent that the preemp­tive black­outs were ac­tu­ally mak­ing peo­ple safer.

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