Senate Committee Convenes Sweeping Oversight Hearing on Recent PSPS Events

The Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee on Monday convened a sweeping oversight hearing on the recent public safety power shutoff (PSPS) events that have occurred throughout the state, featuring a wide range of representatives including those from utility companies, the Newsom Administration, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and various disability and health, business and economy, and school and local government stakeholders.

The hearing began with an opening statement from both Senate Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee Chair Senator Ben Hueso and Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins. Pro Tem Atkins in her remarks highlighted the Legislature and Administration’s recent efforts related to wildfire preparedness and response and examples of communities and residents working to support one another through natural disasters and power shutoff events.

Pro Tem Atkins called for a comprehensive statewide action plan to minimize risks to the public from wildfires and power shutoffs and detailed guiding principles as part of the action plan, including but not limited to: that energy must remain available with only limited, targeted disruption during emergencies; taxpayers should not be required to bail out shareholders who have profited from utility investments; and utilities must have realistic timeframes and goals for hardening utility infrastructure and be held accountable to those actions. A series of issues spanning utility oversight, climate change preparedness, health and social services needs, insurance reforms, and business operations, among others, were identified as topics for future legislative consideration.

The hearing consisted of a number of panels, beginning with an overview of the current landscape related to PSPS events provided by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). The LAO provided a brief history of the events and roles of utility entities and governmental agencies, including emergency preparedness and response operations carried out by state and local governments.

The second panel featured representatives from utility companies San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and Pacific Gas & Electric to discuss their companies’ activities related to PSPS events, response activities, and infrastructure hardening efforts. Members of the committee extensively questioned the utilities about their PSPS-related activities, business structures and operations, and response efforts to previous utility-caused wildfires.

A state oversight panel featuring Cabinet Secretary and Energy Czar Ana Matosantos, Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) Director Mark Ghilarducci, Government Operations Agency Acting Secretary Julie Lee, California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS) Secretary Mark Ghaly, and representatives from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) and the California Public Utilities Commission. Each representative discussed their agency’s role in planning and responding to the widespread PSPS events and detailed services provided to California residents during the events.

Secretary Ghaly’s remarks focused on impacts of the PSPS events on medically fragile and vulnerable populations throughout the state as a result of service gaps left unaddressed by investor-owned utilities. CHHS worked to ensure individuals in state-licensed facilities and in their communities were safe and had no unmet needs. Secretary Ghaly discussed utility company efforts to reach vulnerable populations during PSPS events but indicated the companies’ efforts were significantly insufficient. CHHS had to deploy a considerable amount of resources to support local agencies, assist licensed facilities, and reach vulnerable individuals living in communities. Secretary Ghaly further detailed lessons learned from the recent PSPS events and identified areas of needed improvement to prepare for future PSPS events, including improving data and informational infrastructure, streamlining welfare outreach activities, and strengthening partnerships with state, local, and community partners.

The hearing was rounded out by a series of speakers detailing PSPS event impacts on Californians. Stakeholders from elderly and medically vulnerable populations, business and economy entities, schools and local governments, and other utilities and essential services spoke to their respective experiences in preparing for and responding to recent PSPS events. Extensive public comment further underscored elements of the hearing related to infrastructure improvements, preparedness activities, and the provision of essential services during PSPS events, among others.

The hearing agenda is available here. The committee background paper is available here. Video of the hearing is available here. Additional hearing resources are available here.