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PG&E's uneducated blackouts in 2019

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  • Oct 30, 2020

I can't wait for the PG&E tell-all book. Or wait, has one already come out that I don't know of? Anyway, it just seems like news about the California utility's negligence keeps coming. Last week, the Associated Press published an article detailing the company's lack of training going into the 2019 blackouts. Here are some worthwhile excerpts: 

"Responding to a disaster requires improvisation, much like a jazz band performance, said Chris Godley, director of emergency management in fire-besieged Sonoma County. An untrained PG&E last year was like having a stranger come to the show with their instrument, “walk onto the stage and just jump into the middle of the song.”'

"Yet in an answer PG&E gave in January as part of legal discovery amid a state investigation into the 2019 blackouts, the utility described its standards like this: “While PG&E typically staffs certain EOC (emergency operations center) roles with individuals having prior emergency management experience, there are currently no positions within the EOC organization structure that require prior emergency management experience, qualifications, or certification.”'

"In its statement to AP, the utility said “several” emergency management specialists and leaders had -- on their own -- studied the Standardized Emergency Management System prior to this year. Asked for a specific number, PG&E did not answer."

Isn't it ironic that the cradle of tech is served by arguably one of the nation's most dysfuncitonal and retrograde power utilities? However, if there's any silver lining to this, it's that PG&E handled blackouts much better in 2020. By all accounts, they were smoother and shorter. Better late than never, I guess. 

Dr. Amal Khashab's picture
Dr. Amal Khashab on Oct 30, 2020

Sounds logic. 

Training of O&M staffs is vital as training of military forces although leaders are quite sure that war chance is an absolute zero. It is the Be prepared Concept. Moreover simulations systems are widespread among the power systems structure. Meaning training can be performed virtually.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 30, 2020

Henry, important to distinguish between Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPSs) and rolling blackouts.

PSPSs are a new phenomenon, and a result of recent catastrophic wildfires caused by climate change. Who's to blame for deaths and property damage? Arguably PG&E, in part. Line maintenance has been neglected, even during times of "normal" weather. But monopoly PG&E faces a quandary when it comes to spending money on line maintenance and trimming trees: when they spend more, customer rates rise. And believe me, they hear about it: "PG&E is raising our rates again...they say it's for 'line maintenance'. Always a new excuse!".

PG&E is doing what any corporation does best - maximizing their value for shareholders. After utilities were deregulated in 2005 it's truly their only priority, and people in the know at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission saw problems coming in 2003-2004. Though no one foresaw California's vulnerability to wildfires, one FERC attorney warned of "potentially catastrophic consequences for our national economy."

Rolling blackouts are another story, and can be blamed squarely on the attempt of California natural gas interests to dominate electricity generation. Each year since SoCal Edison's shutdown of San Onofre in 2013, California has faced an increasing shortfall of reliable, baseload power on hot, late summer afternoons. While trying to meet the shortfall with natural gas in 2015, Southern California Gas stuffed too much of it into its Aliso Canyon reservoir, leading to the worst accidental release in U.S. history.

Bottom line: any utility monopoly providing a necessary public commodity or service must be regulated - there are no alternatives. Though we can trust any corporation to maximize value for its customers in a competitive environment, monopolies have no competition. Their only priority is maximizing their value for shareholders, even at the expense of the lives and property of their customers.

Henry Craver's picture
Thank Henry for the Post!
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