Pandemic Adds New Wrinkle To PG&E Planned Power Shutoffs

: The Sebastiani Theatre and much of downtown remained dark on October 10, 2019 in Sonoma, California. Power outages were scheduled as preemptive moves by PG&E to address hot, dry and windy weather and the risk of wildfires, according to the company.
Photo credit Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

PG&E is pledging to take the lessons the company learned last year and improve the way it manages public safety power outages, but the pandemic is complicating that effort.

The utility’s planned power shutoffs were riddled with problems last fall and California Public Utilities Commission President Marybel Batjer said the utility simply must to do better this year.

"The consequences are not merely questions of inconvenience," she said. "They're questions of, can I pay my rent this month? Can I feed my family this month?"

PG&E Interim President Michael Lewis says the company is developing pandemic specific plans.

"We understand the importance of keeping the electricity on, especially so many people are working and going to school at home," he said.

The company says community resource centers, which open during power shutoffs, will have safety protocols in place including, "social distancing practices, disinfecting protocols, packaging meals versus having a place where you can congregate and pass the virus," said Lewis.

The utility is preparing to have outdoor resource centers as well.

Another priority is providing backup power to COVID-19 testing sites, vaccine and treatment research facilities and food banks so that they can keep operating during an outage.