SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — California regulators ordered new guidelines this week for wildfire-triggered power shutoffs that compels Pacific Gas and Electric and other investor-owned utilities to improve their systems for notifying communities of such outages and alleviate their impact.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) announced Thursday it enhanced and updated existing guidelines and rules for utility Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events. The CPUC said utilities must balance the risk of public harm from utility-ignited wildfires against the harm of shutting off power as part of a wildfire mitigation strategy.

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“The loss of power means loss of income, loss of a day or more of learning, and fear and uncertainty for those who rely on power to sustain life supporting medical devices,” said CPUC President Marybel Batjer in a prepared statement. “The decision by a utility to initiate a PSPS event must always be a measure of last resort.”

Last month, the CPUC penalized Pacific Gas and Electric Company $106 million for violating guidelines during three Public Safety Power Shutoffs in the fall of 2019. Failures included PG&E’s becoming non-functional, inaccuracy of outage maps, and not providing advanced shutdown notification to some 50,000 customers and 1,100 medical baseline customers during three PSPS events.

The CPUC said the augmented rules address some of the issues that arose during the power shutoffs during last year’s wildfires, especially to residents with access and functional needs and vulnerable populations.

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Under the new guidelines and rules, utilities must:

  • Provide adequate support and resiliency for the duration of a PSPS event to customers that rely on electricity to maintain necessary life functions, including durable medical equipment and assistive technology.
  • Hold training exercises to plan for PSPS events using same channels and chain of command as would be used in a real event.
  • Include additional facilities to be designated as Critical Facilities and Infrastructure and ensure their advance notice of any PSPS event.
  • Provide enhanced services at community resource centers, including medical-grade charging stations, cellular network services, restrooms, water, chairs and PSPS information representatives.
  • Conduct surveys of customers with access and functional needs to assess whether they were aware of PSPS events and resources available to them and able to use the electric equipment provided. The survey also must solicit feedback on how the process worked.

The new guidelines and rules go into effect immediately, the CPUC said.

“Public Safety Power Shutoffs are a wildfire mitigation strategy of last resort, so it is all the more essential to have clear expectations in place so that the most vulnerable among us, including Medical Baseline customers, have their needs served should that last resort be called in,” said Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma in a press statement.

The rules also require the utilities to submit an annual report to the CPUC detailing the actions taken to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of future PSPS events.

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A series of public meetings will be held in August between the CPUC and utility companies on their PSPS preparation efforts in early August, with details forthcoming. For more information, visit cpuc.ca.gov/psps.