Levine Charts Course to Protect Vulnerable Communities During Planned Power Shutoffs, Safeguard Investments in Wildfire Mitigation

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

(Sacramento, CA) – Continuing his efforts to protect California families and businesses from the impacts of Planned Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-Marin County) today introduced a legislative package that will prioritize public safety during a PSPS, help state and local governments better respond to a PSPS event and ensure that PG&E and other utilities are making necessary investments to reduce the risk of future wildfires, which often contribute to a PSPS event.

AB 2178 (Levine) would add a PSPS to the list of conditions constituting a state of emergency declared by a governor or a local emergency declared by a local government. In October 2019, PG&E initiated a series of PSPS events that left millions of Californians without electricity. The unprecedented scale of these power shutoffs significantly impacted first responders and left millions of residents and small businesses scrambling to find alternative sources of electricity. Because the PSPS was a planned electrical outage, it did not meet the existing definition of emergency, delaying state and local government emergency declarations. AB 2178 will give the governor and local leaders explicit authority to declare an emergency based upon a PSPS and ensure the rapid deployment of resources needed during this type of emergency.

AB 2179 (Levine) would help local governments better prepare, coordinate, identify and protect medically vulnerable populations during a PSPS event. California’s Medical Baseline Program is a financial assistance program for residential customers who have special energy needs due to a qualifying medical condition. Because of their unique energy needs, these customers also receive additional notification and support in the event of a planned or unplanned blackout. Prior to the October 2019 PSPS events, local governments began requesting medical baseline customer contact information from PG&E in order to plan for potential evacuations or other assistance for this highly vulnerable population. At the time, PG&E refused to share this information with local governments and was ultimately forced to comply at the direction of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). 

According to Elizaveta Malashenko, Deputy Executive Director of Safety and Enforcement Policy at the CPUC, PG&E’s intentional delay in sharing medical baseline customer information, “created quite a lot of confusion in that moment, because it was already expected by these counties that they would receive this information.” 

AB 2179 would explicitly authorize PG&E or any investor owned utility to share medical baseline customer information with local governments necessary to prepare and respond to a PSPS event. This information will help local first responders better coordinate potential evacuation and shelter needs while ensuring that medically vulnerable residents receive the support and care they require during this type of emergency.  

AB 2180 (Levine) would ensure that funds designated in an electrical utility’s wildfire mitigation plan to reduce wildfire risk are actually used as specified to reduce the risk of wildfires. An audit commissioned by the CPUC in October 2019 revealed that PG&E had diverted funds from its program to reduce future wildfire risk by burying power lines and instead used those funds on what PG&E called, “higher priority system improvements.” The audit however could not verify PG&E’s claim because its managers “did not retain documents” of the diverted funds from the buried power line program. The lack of documentation notwithstanding, the audit found that the companies reduced spending “had tangible operational impacts which caused delays and additional funds to be expended for the work that was performed.”

AB 2180 would prohibit diverting more than 5% of an electrical utility’s wildfire mitigation plan allocation to other projects in the plan without the approval of the CPUC and require the retention of records to ensure that these critical funds are being spent appropriately. As California continues its fight against climate change, this measure will increase the accountability of electrical utilities to reduce the risk of future wildfires throughout the state. 

“PG&E’s poorly planned and poorly executed Public Safety Power Shutoffs from 2019 exposed deep flaws in the utility that require our immediate action,” said Assemblymember Levine. “We cannot wait for bureaucrats to debate the nature of an emergency when communities and small businesses are being impacted by a PSPS. We cannot wait for an electrical utility to drag its feet when local first responders are trying to help medically vulnerable residents. We cannot wait for another devastating wildfire season to pass while public utilities fail to make the necessary investments needed to reduce wildfire risk. The time to act is now.”

AB 2178, AB 2179 and AB 2180 will be considered by the State Assembly this spring.

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