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PG&E: It Could Take A Decade Before Fire Safety Outages No Longer Needed

SAN FRANCISCO (AP/CBS13) — The chief executive of California's largest utility says it will take about a decade for PG&E to get to the point where widespread safety outages are not necessary when wildfire danger is high.

"I do believe our decision to execute this PSPS for the safety of our customers and the communities we are privileged to serve was the right decision," said PG&E Corp. CEO Bill Johnson in a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday. "A Public Safety Power Shutoff has a single purpose: to prevent catastrophic wildfires."

On Friday, Newsom demanded the utility be held accountable following the massive power shutoffs that impacted nearly 2 million people in Northern California. The governor urged PG&E to provide account credit or rebate to all affected customers.

"Californians should not pay the price for decades of PG&E's greed and neglect," Governor Newsom said.

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Johnson told state regulators Friday he expects the utility to get better with each new pre-emptive outage as it works to upgrade its equipment so blackouts affect fewer people.

Appearing before an emergency meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission, Johnson said the Oct. 9 outage was the right call but said the utility could have done much better executing it.

Johnson clarified his remarks Friday, saying he does not think the power shutoffs will occur at this scale for the next decade.

"I was asked how long before we're out of PSPS … I didn't mean to say we'd be doing it on this scale for 10 years. I think they'll decrease in size and scope every year. But at the same time, we're doing this, the risk is not static—it's dynamic and it goes up every year… I think our focus ought to be every year reducing scope, reducing scale (of PSPS)," Johnson said.

PG&E shut off power to more than 2 million people because of fears that dangerous winds could knock down utility equipment and spark wildfires.

Customers complained of overloaded call centers and a crashing website that made getting information difficult.

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