Gov. Newsom says ‘greed’ to blame for power shutoffs

Police officers patrol a street during a power outage in Oakland, California. Photo by Ray Chavez/San Jose Mercury News.

SACRAMENTO — An angry California Gov. Gavin Newsom slammed the state’s largest utility over its power shutoffs, saying they’re the result of years of mismanagement and greed.

Pacific Gas & Electric intentionally cut power to almost 800,000 customers in Northern California on Wednesday to prevent wildfires caused by high winds downing live power equipment — a process the utility had warned they’d be more aggressive about this year. While the company has since restored power for many affected areas, more than 300,000 remain without electricity.

“This is not … a climate change story as much as a story about greed and mismanagement over the course of decades,” Newsom said. “Neglect, a desire to advance not public safety but profits.”

Meanwhile, the same powerful winds are moving into Southern California, where a local utility company has started turning off the lights for thousands of people. Southern California Edison cut power to almost 24,000 customers as winds picked up in the region Thursday.

“The highest we’ve seen so far is 64 miles per hour in Warm Springs in the mountains of LA County,” said Keily Delerme, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service. “The most concerning thing is the combination of the winds and dry conditions.”

Some school districts have canceled classes Thursday and Friday.

In Northern California, the power is trickling back on. More than half of the customers affected had power back by end of Thursday, PG&E said. About 426,000 of a total 738,000 customers have had their power restored. So far, 312,000 remain without power.

And the financial impact has been devastating. San Jose city said it lost at least half a million dollars and the number is expected to go up. The estimate includes supplies and fuel costs for generators, Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness said.

Mayor Sam Liccardo said they expect some compensation from PG&E for the public cost.

Tod Pickett, who operates a sports memorabilia shop in Placerville, estimated he’s lost thousands of dollars. “When the wind blows we have to turn the power off,” Pickett said. “It’s crazy … people are losing food, people are losing revenue for not being able to work.”

Critics say PG&E is getting away with inconveniencing its customers and costing businesses instead of upgrading its infrastructure to prevent fires.

But the end of the misery may be near in Northern California.

Weather conditions are getting better, and the utility said it’ll start its safety inspections and repairs in some areas, a first step to restoring power. The company said while it has about 6,300 personnel ready to start inspections, it could take several days to restore power to everyone.

The PG&E blackout region stretches from south of San Jose to areas north of Eureka, and utility officials said they plan to inspect 25,000 miles of power lines before they turn everything back on.

Ultimately, if the power is off for two days, it could cost up to $2.6 billion, according to Michael Wara, the director of the Climate and Energy Policy Program at Stanford University’s Woods Institute.

“This is very disruptive to people’s lives and businesses to not have electric power. An economy as large as California’s, when you black out a significant fraction of the state, there are going to be large economic impacts.”

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