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Miscommunications and Misdirection

Hold PG&E accountable for its reckless and unprofessional behavior

During the most recent Public Safety Power Shutoffs, the Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s communication with its customers was awful.

The first time the utility shutoff power in Humboldt County was on Oct. 9. The county had less than 12 hours of notice for residents to prepare for a possible four-day outage. Humboldt was the only county in California to lose all power and initially wasn’t even on the list of affected counties.

After the outage, Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president of electric operations, said that Humboldt County shouldn’t have lost power in the first place. Although extreme weather and fire risk were at play in other counties’ outages, Humboldt went dark because of scheduled maintenance on one of the transmission lines coming into the county.

On Saturday, Oct. 26, reports from PG&E said only about 2,000 customers in Humboldt would be affected. Several hours later, PG&E corrected itself and acknowledged that all Humboldt residents would be hit with the outage.

During the most recent PSPS, the utility released news that another outage would likely hit Humboldt early Tuesday morning. Additional updates said that while many residents would regain power, it was possible that residents still without it may continue to be in the dark through to Tuesday’s outage.

When Tuesday morning came and went, locals wondered when the outage would hit. Those who regained power the day previous still had it, and conflicting reports from PG&E, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority and the Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services led to mass uncertainty about when –and if– the power would go out again.

For those PG&E customers who tuned in to one of the company’s many streamed press conferences, they were forced to wade through jargon including “operational event,” “incident commander,” and the terribly-named “Public Safety Power Shutoffs.”

Late Monday night, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority posted on Facebook that PG&E said that power in Northern Humboldt wouldn’t go out until 9 p.m. That same night, OES made its own Facebook post stating that PG&E said power was still planned to go out early in the morning.

On Tuesday morning, OES continued to stand by what it had learned from PG&E.

PG&E’s own updates from Tuesday morning listed the outage time for Northern Humboldt as 9 p.m., and as the day went on, that seemed to be likely.

Humboldt State University had no better idea of when the power would go out, as it noted in its update on Tuesday morning.

“HSU is seeking clarity from PG&E regarding the timing of a possible power shutdown,” HSU’s update said. “There has been conflicting information from the company, and in local news reports, over the last 24 hours.”

PG&E later updated its estimated timing to 7 p.m., and then, around 5 p.m., it called off any PSPS for Humboldt at all. On Facebook, OES said PG&E had given it inaccurate information.

“PG&E has provided the Humboldt County Office of Emergency Services (OES) inaccurate information regarding times of de-energization in our County,” OES said.

Communication is everything. PG&E changing times of planned outages makes sense, especially since the outages are primarily based around weather patterns. But failing to provide accurate information to emergency services and county officials is ludicrous. The company’s communication strategies are unacceptable.

As a community and state we need to hold PG&E accountable and remove ourselves from its firm corporate grip. These blackouts should be the push California needs to turn toward alternative energy and municipal utility boards, ridding the state of monopolized power once and for all.

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