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Senate Committee Holds Oversight Hearing on Utility Power Shutoffs

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Earlier this week, the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee conducted an oversight hearing to address recent public safety power shutoff (PSPS) events, during which utilities intentionally shut off power in certain areas at heightened risk of weather-related wildfires.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office provided an overview that included the history of PSPS authority and guidance, the state’s role in PSPS events, steps the utilities must take to mitigate the impact on vulnerable populations, and support for PSPS events in the 2019-20 budget.

In addition, leadership from the state’s investor-owned electric utilities — PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) — explained how their organizations approached the recent PSPS events and steps they are taking to mitigate the need for future PSPS events. 

The hearing also included a panel focused on how these events affect all Californians — emphasizing the impact on elderly and medically vulnerable populations — as well as the effect on the state’s economy, schools, local governments, and other utilities and essential services. 

Tracy McBroom, system director of emergency management, Adventist Health, testified on hospitals’ behalf. McBroom highlighted the unique role hospitals play during the PSPS events, the impact of PSPS events on hospitals and their staff, and opportunities for utilities to better integrate emergency management efforts with those of the state and California hospitals. In addition, last week, CHA met with representatives from the governor’s office to discuss recommendations specific to hospitals, their patients, and their communities.

Much of the hearing was dedicated to state oversight of the PSPS events. Administration officials detailed the steps they have taken to provide assistance to PG&E and affected communities — summarized in a press release that the governor’s office issued after administration officials testified. 

While all utilities operate under the same regulatory framework, each has taken a different approach (e.g., maintenance and modernization of grids, investment, management), resulting in differences in the PSPS events’ scope, duration, and impact. The California Public Utilities Commission will investigate the different approaches to inform additional thinking on how the state approaches safety, affordability, reliability, and clean energy.

Additional resources from the hearing include: