PG&E blames human error for mistakes in mid-October power shutoff


PG&E says human error is behind the utility’s failure to notify about 1,100 customers in advance that they would lose power during the mid-October public safety power shutoff.

More than 40,000 customers were impacted by the shutoff across 19 counties. The admission comes from a mandatory report filed by PG&E’s with the California Public Utilities Commission.

The utility says a “training-related process error” was to blame for its failure to notify the impacted customers ahead of time; a handful of them were medically vulnerable, meaning they rely on power to get necessary medical care.

PG&E also found 28 incidents of damage to its power lines from high winds or other hazards, the majority resulting from tree branches falling onto the lines. Because the lines were powered down, that means the utility was able to avoid 28 incidents that could have sparked wildfires.

“Because in some areas where you had winds of 73 mph, those are areas where you could have a problem where infrastructure, a wire would be knocked down or there’s a problem with a short somewhere along the line,” said State Senator Jerry Hill, who represents San Mateo and says PG&E has made improvements from last year’s fire season.

But Hill also says some of that damage could have been avoided altogether. “They had problems in areas in San Mateo, Santa Cruz County where the winds were only 38 mph. That’s a normal condition. Their infrastructure should be able to handle that.”

PG&E has also decreased the number of customers who are impacted by the power shutoffs by narrowing down the areas where high wind is forecast and lines need to be turned off.

“Everything’s improved. The problem is – and where I hope we don’t become – is creating the new normal, and the new normal being that we will have to live with power shutoffs every year,” said Hill. “And that’s what this report showed me.”

A PG&E spokeswoman told KCBS Radio no one was available for comment on the report, which was released late on Friday.