PSPS & Wildfire Prevention: Are statewide shutoffs really the only option?

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Unprecedented power shutoffs continue across parts of California and Kern County.

One of the state’s largest utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric, has been has been proactively turning off power for customers because of a high fire risk.

Millions of customers are frustrated, wondering why a multi-billion dollar company feels its only option is to to shut off the power to prevent catastrophic wildfires.

We did a little digging to figure out what leaders at the utility company might be thinking.

“This is all in order to mitigate wildfire risk in California,” Ari Vanrenen of PG&E said.

It may be hard for some people to remember this far back, but firestorms state investigators say were sparked by PG&E equipment claimed dozens of lives since 2015.

Two people died when a tree PG&E failed to maintain hit one of its power lines and ignited the so-called Butte Fire near Sacramento in 2015.

A similar situation sparked the so-called Redwood Valley Complex Fire in 2017. That fire killed nine people in Mendocino County.

The same day a PG&E power pole failed and another fire exploded. The Atlas Fire tore through Napa and Solano Counties and six more people lost their lives.

Another four people died in the so-called Cascade Fire. That firestorm started a day after the Atlas Fire did when sagging power lines touched during high winds.

Then last fall 85 people were killed when flames sparked by PG&E power lines swept through the Northern California town of Paradise. The Camp Fire is the deadliest wildfire in California history.

On top of all of those fire deaths, add eight more lives lost in the San Bruno pipeline explosions back in 2010.

That’s at least 114 people killed as a result of PG&E equipment failures.

While people continue to lose their lives in devastating fire events, PG&E executives are still bringing home big bucks in their paychecks.

The utility is a federal company which means anyone can look up how much money executives earn, so we did.

According to a 2018 PG&E Joint Proxy Statement, former CEO Geisha Williams made $8.5 million dollars in 2017.

That’s more than double the $4.1 million she made in 2016.

Williams stepped down back in January just days before PG&E filed for bankruptcy as the utility faces lawsuits in the wake of those deadly fires we mentioned.

We wanted to know if PG&E really thinks public safety power shut offs are the absolute only option to preventing catastrophic wildfires like we’ve seen the past few years. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the utility to instead invest the millions of dollars executives are taking home to fix existing infrastructure?

We reached out to PG&E for a statement but have not heard back.

We also reached out to SoCal Edison. In 2017, like PG&E’s CEO, SoCal Edison’s chief executive Pedro Pizarro also made more than $8 million.

A representative from SoCal Edison gave 17 News this statement:
“Executive salaries are in line with the average compensation for other major utilities in the US, but what’s really important here is the hundreds of millions of dollars that we are spending on our wildfire mitigation plan to reduce the likelihood of future PSPS events.”

SoCal said if approved, the costs from the wildfire mitigation plan would be covered by customers like typical infrastructure costs.

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