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PG&E customers pay for utility's failures

More than 1 million Northern California residents continued to be without power Monday, even though a red flag warning was lifted at 11 a.m. More high winds were expected starting Tuesday morning, however, and Pacific Gas & Electric warned it might impose another power shutdown across 32 counties as a precaution.

Meanwhile, Oregon customers of Pacific Power can only watch and be grateful that we are not in the same boat.

PG&E, the public utility that serves most of California north of Bakersfield, filed for bankruptcy in January as party of its efforts to deal with $30 billion in liabilities from the Camp fire last year that killed 85 people and destroyed the town of Paradise.

PG&E has a dismal record of maintaining its lines and equipment. The New York Times reported in March that five of the 10 most destructive fires in California since 2015 have been linked the company’s equipment. The Camp fire is believed to have started with a spark from a power line that fell from a transmission tower that was more than 100 years old and 25 years past its useful life.

This year, hoping to prevent a recurrence of last year’s tragedy, PG&E conducted massive Public Safety Power Shutoffs — known as PSPSs — across huge swaths of Northern California. But the biggest fire in the state so far, the Kincade fire in the Sonoma County hills, may have been started by a PG&E transmission tower malfunction. The company’s stock was trading down 23% on Friday because of that news.

Still, the company plans more shutoffs as extreme fire weather is expected to continue.

PG&E executives pledged last year that the company was committed to fixing its past mistakes and increasing safety. But California officials were not convinced.

“They have simply been caught red-handed over and over again, lying, manipulating or misleading the public,” Gov. Gavin Newsom told the New York Times. “They cannot be trusted.”

Meanwhile, customers of Pacific Power here in Oregon have been told the company may order power shutoffs in extreme cases, but they will be rare and confined to closely targeted areas. The company also has pledged to provide tent shelters with air conditioning, fresh water and other amenities — something that has not been offered to PG&E customers in California. Pacific Power says its own records indicate only one case in the past 10 years would have resulted in power being shut off for one hour.

That’s a far cry from the days without power that PG&E customers are enduring, with more to come.