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California Senate panel to investigate massive power shutoff to prevent wildfires

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Salvador Espinosa sweeps in the kitchen of a Mary’s Pizza Shack restaurant during a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power shutdown in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Oct. 10. The California Senate will investigate a California utility’s process for cutting off power to more than 2 million people to prevent wildfires.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Salvador Espinosa sweeps in the kitchen of a Mary’s Pizza Shack restaurant during a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power shutdown in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Oct. 10. The California Senate will investigate a California utility’s process for cutting off power to more than 2 million people to prevent wildfires.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. >> The leader of the California Senate asked a committee Thursday to investigate a utility company’s decision to cut off power to more than 2 million people to prevent wildfires.

Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins directed the Senate Democratic Caucus to “begin investigating and reviewing options to address the serious deficiencies” with PG&E’s current process of shutting off power to prevent wildfires.

“The public understandably is outraged over the problems that arose with these shutoffs,” Atkins wrote in a memo to the caucus. “We owe it to our constituents to act.”

Atkins said an oversight hearing would be scheduled in the next few weeks.

Dry conditions and dangerous winds last week prompted Pacific Gas and Electric to pre-emptively shut off power to more than 700,000 customers, impacting an estimated 2.1 million people. It was the largest planned power outage in state history.

Wildfires in California are often caused by downed power lines and other utility equipment. A fire last year sparked by PG&E’s equipment mostly destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people.

Last week’s shutoff was marred by problems.

After announcing it, PG&E pointed customers to its website for more information. But the website crashed, and some customers said they did not get enough warning. Utility CEO Bill Johnson said the company was “not adequately prepared.”

PG&E said Monday its systems were damaged in more than 100 places — spots that could have been a potential source of ignition for a wildfire.

California’s top utility regulator blasted PG&E for “failures in execution” during the power shutoff and ordered the company to set a goal of restoring power within 12 hours instead of two days.

Gov. Gavin Newsom urged the company to compensate customers and businesses with bill credits or rebates.

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