PG&E Confirms 50 Instances of Damage or Hazard to its Equipment During Outages

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A PG&E work crew in San Francisco. PG&E cut power to more than 700,000 of its customers this past week. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

PG&E crews have identified at least 50 instances of "damage or hazard" to its infrastructure as a result of the windy conditions that prompted the utility to cut power to roughly 738,000 of its customers across Northern and Central California this week.

The damage mostly involved vegetation — trees, grass or brush — coming into contact with power lines and, in some instances, vegetation knocking power lines down, according to the utility.

Sumeet Singh, vice president of PG&E's community wildfire safety program, outlined on Saturday four examples of hazardous situations involving the utility's equipment — including one in Napa County, two in Shasta County and one in Glenn County. The Napa County damage involved a tree branch falling "directly on top of" overhead distribution lines.

In Glenn County, crews also found a tree branch in contact with distribution lines, Singh said. One instance of damage in Shasta County involved vegetation causing power lines to fall to the ground, and the other involved wind potentially bending one of the utility's poles.

The Power Shutoffs

"Any which of those could potentially have resulted in the cause of an ignition and a potential catastrophic wildfire," Singh said.

Singh did not offer additional details on the 46 other instances of potential wind-caused damages or where they occurred, but he said there are another 100 unconfirmed locations where crews are investigating whether the weather event affected the utility's equipment.

Singh and PG&E CEO Bill Johnson touted the instances of damage or hazard as justification for the utility's unprecedented mass blackouts. They assert that if power weren't cut, the damaged equipment could have ignited potentially destructive blazes.

Johnson also blasted claims that the utility was forced to resort to planned outages because its infrastructure is outmoded and that the utility deferred much-needed maintenance ⁠— claims that have come from some of the state's top elected officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom.

"What needs to be said here is that our system in the high fire [risk] areas, meets or exceeds the regulations that govern our business," Johnson said. "It is simply not true that the condition of our system was the cause of this PSPS (Public Safety Power Shutoff)."

In a press conference on Thursday, Gov. Newsom lambasted PG&E in the aftermath of the blackouts, claiming its decision to cut power was the result of the utility not upgrading its infrastructure.

"What's happened is unacceptable," Newsom said. "It's happened because of neglect. It's happened because of decisions that were deferred, delayed or not made by the largest investor-owned utility in the state of California, one of the largest in the nation."