Bay Area Mayors Endorse Senator Wiener’s SB 378 to Limit Planned Blackouts and Protect Residents and Businesses

October 15, 2019

San Francisco –  Today, San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín announced their support for Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 378. SB 378 puts in place reasonable, commonsense mechanisms to ensure that utilities are pursuing planned blackouts with adequate prudence, that utilities aren’t knee-jerk shutting off power to eliminate liability risk, and that the negative consequences of blackouts on local communities are minimized. 

“Our residents deserve clean, safe, and reliable electricity,” said Mayor Breed. “While San Francisco has a plan in place to respond to power shut-offs to ensure the safety of our communities, PG&E shouldn’t be allowed free rein to shut off our power without considering the economic and public safety impacts of their actions. Senator Wiener’s legislation, Senate Bill 378, would protect residents who rely on a regular supply of electricity, and would keep big utilities accountable for their actions.”

“It’s unacceptable for Oakland residents to be in left in the dark on when PG&E’s next power shut down will occur or how long it will last,” said Mayor Schaaf.  “Senator Wiener’s bill puts clear rules and guidelines in place, and gives our residents a chance to plan and prepare. All California residents deserve a reliable utility, and until we get one SB 378 helps minimize the impact planned blackouts will have in our community.”

“I am thankful to Senator Wiener for his leadership in pushing to add transparency -- and government oversight -- to large-scale power shutdowns by private utilities,” said Mayor Liccardo. “Extended blackouts can have catastrophic safety and health impacts to our communities, and our residents and businesses want utilities’ decision-making to be accountable to the public, not shareholders.”

“The safety of our residents is paramount, but the recent PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff event demonstrated that cutting the power with little or warning or information puts people’s lives at risk,” said Mayor Arreguín. “SB 378 is necessary to prevent the frustrations and fears that took place. It’s time for PG&E to step up and take responsibility for the negative impacts of a PSPS event instead of leaving us all in the dark”.

“The recent mass blackouts in the Bay Area show exactly that we need legislation to protect residents,” said Senator Wiener. “Utilities now have a strong financial incentive to err on the side of blackouts - even when they aren’t necessary - and very little incentive to avoid large blackouts. These blackouts can have devastating impacts on vulnerable seniors, people with health problems, businesses, and public safety agencies. This legislation is about striking the right balance to ensure utilities don’t overlook the negative impacts to residents, businesses, and communities.”

SB 378 puts in place reasonable reforms to both help prevent and mitigate the impact of planned blackouts moving forward. Specifically, this measure will:

  • Require that the California Public Utilities Commission create a process by which businesses, individuals, and local governments can recover costs accrued during a planned blackout (for example, by damaging equipment turned off too quickly) from the utility within two weeks, and require that utility shareholders – not ratepayers – are responsible for these costs.
  • Promote better collection of data on utility equipment in order to assess risk level beforehand, as well as require reporting on the consequences of planned blackouts after the fact.
  • Level hourly fees on utilities during planned blackouts, and ensure that customers cannot be billed for transmission, distribution, and other costs during a planned blackout, in addition to a stipulation that a utility cannot profit from a planned blackout (through changing electricity prices and the like).
  • Prevent utilities from spending ratepayer funds to oppose formation of new municipal utilities, distributed energy resource initiatives, or any other attempt to offer consumers increased energy choice and more reliable options, similar to prohibitions already in place regarding CCA formation.

Through these new policies, SB 378 will ensure that utilities prioritize vital infrastructure upgrades and safety measures over the convenience of simply shutting off power. Together, these reforms will guarantee that planned blackouts are judicious, targeted, and rare.

Senator Wiener introduced SB 378 on September 6.  It will be set for a hearing in January 2020.

Full text of the bill can be found here.