Pacific Gas and Electric Company on Friday issued a warning that California is likely to see more power outages during this year’s wildfire season as the company may preemptively cut off power in areas to avoid additional risk.
“During severe weather, PG&E may need to turn off power for public safety as high winds can cause tree branches or debris to contact energized electric lines, which could damage electrical equipment and cause a major wildfire,” the company said on Friday.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who is overseeing PG&E’s federal criminal probation stemming from a previous safety violation, ordered the company last year to improve its efforts to trim trees and inspect power lines after the company pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges related to the start of a wildfire in 2018 that destroyed the town of Paradise, California and killed 85 people.
“PG&E cheated on maintenance of its grid — to the point that the grid became unsafe to operate during our annual high winds, so unsafe that the grid itself failed and ignited many catastrophic wildfires,” Judge Alsup wrote in his ruling.
He also noted that “PG&E’s outsourcing scheme remains sloppy and unreliable.”
Sumeet Singh, PG&E’s chief risk officer, told The Wall Street Journal that the company has fallen behind in its efforts to remove tree branches near power lines and its inspection of their poles and towers in the state.
“The big, big variable that’s unpredictable here is the wind,” Singh said. “But in all the forecasts that we’ve done, we do not see ourselves getting back to the same kind of [power outage] events like we saw in 2019.”
Last year, more than 4 million acres of California land burned in wildfires, the most in the state’s recorded history. PG&E was recently fined more than $100 million for mishandling power outages in 2019, and reached a settlement worth more than $40 million with government agencies in several counties that were greatly harmed by wildfires that were ignited by the company’s equipment in 2019 and 2020, according to the Associated Press.
“We will continue to make additional improvements to support our customers, while working to keep them safe,” PG&E said in May.