Gavin Newsom blames PG&E for California power shutoffs: ‘This can’t be the new normal’

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday blamed PG&E for the blackouts that had hundreds of thousands of Northern California residents without power for consecutive days this week.

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

The San Francisco-based utility on Tuesday shut off power to hundreds of thousands of its customers to reduce the risk of its equipment igniting a wildfire. The company is in bankruptcy and facing billions of dollars in liabilities from wildfires caused by its equipment.

Newsom spoke after he got off phone with PG&E’s CEO, Bill Johnson. Newsom said he had been reassured that the nearly 500,000 customers without power could see their lights come back on in the next few days. He said the utility must first inspect “thousands of miles of lines” — an effort the state is assisting.

Newsom earlier this week referred to the power shutoffs as an “industry best practice” and said they could become “the new normal.”

He had stronger words as the blackouts stretched into another day. “This can’t be the new normal,” he said at a press conference in the state’s Office of Emergency Services operations center.

“Things will have to radically change” to avoid future shutoffs, he said.

“What has occurred in the last 48 hours is unacceptable,” Newsom said. “What has occurred in the last 48 hours is kids staying home from school, parents that can’t bathe their kids and folks that come home from work who can’t even find a way to get into their garage. You’ve got people that can’t even access water or medical supplies. We’re seeing the scale and scope of something no state in the 21st century should experience.”

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Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Office of Emergency Sevices, said the state activated an operations center in Mather on Tuesday to monitor the shutoffs and coordinate efforts to help customers get through the energy crisis.

Ghilarducci said he expects households in southern California to experience similar shutdowns, given the increased threat of wildfires. CalFire announced Thursday evening it had responded 476 fires across the state in the last 48 hours.

Newsom said the state will hold PG&E accountable “to everything they’re promising privately, everything they’re promoting publicly, and every damn thing we laid out in our legislative package.”

California approved a $26 billion plan in July to deal with ongoing wildfire threats in July, which in part, force PG&E to adhere to stricter safety standards. On Thursday, Newsom said he has also directed the state’s Public Utiltiies Commission will examine PG&E’s procedures, investigate “the assertions that have been made” by the company and make recommendations on how to prevent widespread shutoffs going forward. He said the next three days of PG&E’s efforts to restore power will be “profoundly determinitive.”

“They’re not untouchable,” Newsom said of PG&E. “Quite the contrary, they’re in bankruptcy. They’re in peril of not existing.”

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.