Sen. Steve Glazer today proposed new legislation that would help Californians deal with some of the worst effects of power outages until PG&E and other utilities can ensure that they can keep the lights on during dangerous high-wind conditions.
Glazer was joined by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda, local mayors, and the CEO of the San Ramon Valley Medical Center.
The bills would:
- Require mobile phone companies to provide at least 72 hours of back-up battery power on their towers;
- Require utilities to provide back-up battery packs to all customers whose lives would be endangered by an extended, deliberate power outage;
- Clarify that hospitals can run back-up diesel generators for the duration of a planned utility power shut-off even if the governor has not declared a disaster or state of emergency.
“Our most urgent priority is to force the utilities to do everything possible to end these outages,” Glazer said. “This situation simply cannot be the new normal.
“But until we have that assurance, we must also do all we can to help our residents deal with any power outages that do occur. And that means ensuring that people can communicate with each other and that our most vulnerable residents do not see their lives threatened if the lights go off.”
Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan agreed.
“PG&E’s many years of neglect, deferred maintenance, and greed has created chaos in the form of these PSPS events,” she said. “This package of legislation is an important step to ensure that our most vulnerable family, friends and neighbors have the communication and lifesaving power they need when we face these blackouts.”
During the most recent outages in October, Bay Area residents were stunned to see their cell phone service shut down after cell phone towers lost power and did not have sufficient battery back-up. With more and more people having only mobile phones, not land lines, hundreds of thousands of residents were left without access to emergency services or even information about how long the power would be off.
“With wildfires nearby, many people had no way to know whether they had been advised or ordered to evacuate,” Glazer said. “This is a dangerous and unacceptable situation.”
Glazer also proposed requiring utilities to do more to help medically vulnerable people survive a planned power outage.
More than 100,000 people have signed up for PG&E’s “medical baseline” designation, which means that they depend on electricity for their health. But currently that designation means only that they will get advance notice of any planned power outages. This is supposed to give them time to move to a place that will not lose power.
But many disabled and elderly people cannot move or have no place to go. For someone on oxygen, medication that needs refrigeration, or dependent on an electric wheelchair, an extended power outage can trap them without critical tools they need to stay alive. While PG&E recently announced a plan to deliver back-up battery packs to some of these customers, only about 500 packs will be available, far fewer than are needed.
“PG&E is responsible for maintaining a grid that can stay on in a windstorm without risk of causing fires,” Glazer said. “The least they can do is provide emergency power to those whose lives literally depend upon it.”
Glazer also proposed clarifying state laws and regulations so that hospitals don’t need to worry about shutting down generators during an extended outage.
Hospitals are currently allowed to run their diesel-powered generators without limit during a disaster. But most local air pollution districts have limits on how many hours a generator can run during normal times. Many hospitals are concerned that those limits apply even during a Public Safety Power Shut-off.
“We need to keep our hospitals up and running at all times,” Glazer said. “They need to know they can run their generators as long as they need to without running the risk of fines or other penalties assessed by air quality regulators.”
Glazer plans to introduce the three bills when the Legislature returns in January.