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PG&E Defends Blackouts, Shows Line Damage That Might Have Sparked Fires

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- PG&E officials defended their use of this week's public safety power shutoff and said that, as of Saturday afternoon, 99.5 percent of customers affected have had electricity restored.

During a briefing Saturday afternoon, PG&E President Bill Johnson addressed claims that the power shutoff was done to "save our own skins" and that PG&E's system was in shambles.

Power Line Damage
Tree branch on power lines in Glenn County. (PG&E Photo)

"It is simply not true that the condition of our system was the cause of this PSPS," Johnson said. "What is true is that the risk of wildfire has grown exponentially."

During the past week Gov. Gavin Newsom and others have criticized the utility for shutting down power, saying PG&E had neglected upgrades and maintenance.

On Saturday, Johnson thanked customers for their patience and described the shutoff as a "monumental undertaking."

As of 1 p.m., 2,500 remaining customers, mostly in hilly areas, remain without power, said Sumeet Singh, PG&E vice president for asset and risk management.

The utility is hoping to restore power to those customers by the end of the day, pending ongoing inspections. All Bay Area customers affected by the shutoff have seen power restored, he said.

Statewide, from the Sierra to Kern County, about 738,000 customers were affected. The dry windy weather that triggered the power shutoffs included wind gusts of more than 70 miles per hour in some areas, from Wednesday evening into Thursday morning.

Crews inspecting lines after this week's high winds have found 50 cases so far of damage or hazard to their equipment during the power shutoff this week, Singh said. An additional 100 suspected cases are being reviewed.

Singh showed photos of tree branches that had fallen onto power lines, and downed poles on top of vegetation that could have sparked fires had the power been turned on, he said.

PG&E officials have apologized for an event held Tuesday in Sonoma County for natural gas customers, saying the timing and location was insensitive, given that this past week marked the two-year anniversary of the 2017 North Bay wildfires.

The event at a winery was attended by 60 people, including a handful of PG&E gas representatives. Corporation and utility CEOs did not attend and were in the company's emergency operations center, a spokesperson said.

The utility will no longer hold such events, said PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian.

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