The California Public Utilities Commission’s consumer watchdog has recommended that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) be fined $165 million over after failing to warn customers over a series of intentional power outages in October last year.
In 2019, PG&E performed a series of shut-offs that left at least a million customers across 38 counties without electricity. The outages, which were designed to prevent blazes, lasted for as long as a week in many areas, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The San Francisco-based company had failed to provide advance notice to tens of thousands of people. People who rely on electricity to power medical devices were also affected by the blackout.
Californians who were affected by the shut-offs said they could not access PG&E’s website due to an overwhelming number of visits from residents living in the northern and central parts of the state.
Under the proposal of the state’s public utilities commission, PG&E would be fined $101.3 million for not warning people who rely on electricity for medical reasons about the shut-offs. The company would also have to pay $41.5 million for its fault website and $22.9 million for its failure to coordinate with public safety officials properly.
“When a utility fails to provide these hospitals, fire departments, and people with medical conditions with adequate warning of its decision to execute a (shut-off), it is endangering lives,” Attorney Noel Obiora said.
Lynsey Paulo, a spokesperson for PG&E, said the utility company acknowledge the incident and said it had worked to improve its shut-off program. The spokesperson also revealed that the company had given $86 million in bill credits to residents and businesses who were affected by the poorly done shut-offs in 2019.
“We have made substantial improvements in the areas of customer notifications, support for customers — including those with medical or independent living needs, website and call center capabilities, and planning and working with local governments,” Paulo said in the email.
“We will continue to make additional improvements to support our customers while working to keep them safe,” the email continued.
The commission has yet to decide on the potential fine, giving PG&E a chance to respond to the filing until November 17 formally.
PG&E had previously been involved in some of the most devastating wildfires in California. In November 2018, a series of outdated power lines sparked the Camp Fire. The blaze destroyed much of Paradise town in Northern California, killing 85 people and torching over 19,000 buildings.
The fire had begun after a transmission line broke from one of the company’s towers due to strong winds. The tower, which was located in a forested and mountainous area, was later revealed to be nearly 100-years-old.
An investigation conducted by the county found that PG&E failed to perform climbing inspections of the century-old tower. Crews working for the utility company had not climbed the tower since 2001, which led to their failure to identify problems with a small metal hook that would have held up the transmission line.
Bill Johnson, the chief executive of Pacific Gas& Electric, pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of illegally setting a fire. The utility company had also agreed to pay $3.5 million as part of the criminal plea and $500,000 to cover the cost of the investigation, according to NPR.
In 2010, a gas pipeline owned by the utility company exploded in San Bruno, San Francisco. The explosion killed eight people. A federal jury convicted PG&E over safety violations and obstruction of an investigation. They were also placed under probation, The New York Times reported.