San Jose mayor calls for oversight of PG&E blackout authority

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo announced on Monday that wants oversight of PG&E’s decision to over power blackouts during conditions in which its equipment could spark a catastrophic wildfire.

“This summer many life or death decisions will be made about whether to shut down our electricity grid in parts of our state,” said Liccardo from his offices.

The mayor said he was troubled by a decision by the California Public Utilities Commission back in May that allows PG&E to cut power to possibly hundreds of thousands of people.

“No one has really had the opportunity to ask… is this the right way to be making decisions like this?”, the mayor said.

State investigators found the utility’s equipment caused more than a dozen fires in recent years including the Camp Fire in Butte County that claimed 85 lives and destroyed roughly 15,000 homes…

PG&E faces billions of dollars in liability costs and prompted it to file for bankruptcy.

While the utility has a threshold that must be reached before cutting, Liccardo contends that their needs to be oversight of whether PG&E’s pulls the plug because of what could happen in a city as large as San Jose.

The mayor says problems include traffic lights going out, people losing air conditioning in summer heat and cell phones that are unable to call 911 when power has been cut to cell phone towers.

“To proactively de-energize (puts us) definitely in new territory,” said Lori Mitchell, Director of the Community Energy Dept., San Jose. “I think what we are very worried about here in San Jose are the many a safety risk that a large regional outage would cause.”

At the same time the mayor was speaking about his concerns, lawmakers in Sacramento were debating a bill that would set up a $21 billion dollar fund to help PG-and-e and its counterparts in Southern California deal with liabilities from wildfires.

AB 1054 passed the Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee by a 9 to 2 vote Monday and must still be approved by the full Senate before moving over to the Assembly.

“(It) represents the best protection of rate payers and holding PG&E accountable that’s been put in the table,” said Mark Toney, Executive Director of The Utility Reform Network. “This bill is only the beginning of the solution to figuring out how to pay for wildfires in a way that doesn’t make the ratepayer bill skyrocket.”

The utilities themselves are responsible for putting up half the money in the fund while the other half from a monthly tax already charged on utility bills.