By J.D. Morris and Trapper Byrne, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
October 29, 2019
Bowing to pressure from Gov. Gavin Newsom, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. will provide some form of compensation to people affected by widely criticized mass power outages the utility implemented earlier this month.
Bill Johnson, CEO of the utility’s parent PG&E Corp., said Tuesday that the company had considered Newsom’s request to provide rebates or credits to residents and small businesses blacked out starting Oct. 9, and decided to offer a one-time credit to people affected by those shutoffs.
Johnson said the decision was a reflection of missteps PG&E made during those outages, including a website that kept crashing, frustrating customers’ ability to get critical information. Though PG&E has agreed to the governor’s general request, Johnson told reporters the company was still figuring out the details and would confirm them following the blackouts currently under way.
PG&E does not currently plan to provide credits for millions of people affected by the current blackouts or the shut-offs the company implemented over the past weekend.
“Going forward, I think we need to have a policy debate or discussion ... about what is the right way to deal with these interruptions,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Newsom said PG&E would “support some credits” for residents and business owners who had their power shut off this month.
“We made contact with PG&E and they will begin the process of crediting customers for this disruption,” Newsom said at a news conference in Los Angeles, where he viewed damage caused by the Getty Fire. “This is significant, because utilities in the past have never credited customers for these disruptions. We called for rebates and the CEO just communicated with our staff that they are going to support some credits. We’re being extraordinarily aggressive.”
Newsom sent a letter Oct. 14 to Johnson urging the company to give rebates or credits to those affected by the mass outages days earlier, which the utility undertook in a bid to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires.
Newsom wrote Johnson that the company should provide $100 for residential customers affected by outages and $250 for small businesses.
“The unacceptable scope and duration of this outage was the direct result of decades of PG&E prioritizing profit over public safety, mismanagement, inadequate investment in fire safety and fire prevention measures, and neglect of critical infrastructure,” Newsom wrote.
Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said the real problem is PG&E’s actions, but he characterized credits as better than nothing.
“It’s important that they do pay when they get it wrong, and they got it wrong,” he said. “I think the governor is doing what he can to try and make PG&E pay and create a deterrent to this type of mismanagement.”
San Francisco Chronicle staff writers Anna Bauman and Alexei Koseff contributed to this report.
J.D. Morris is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer and Trapper Byrne is the San Francisco Chronicle’s politics editor . Email: [email protected], [email protected] Twitter: @trapperbyrne, @thejdmorris