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Bay Area power outages hit many

By Sam Gurdus

Staff Editor

Over the past month, hundreds of thousands of Californians have lost power for extended lengths of time. The question that many in our community are beginning to ask is: “Is this the new normal?”

Beginning in early October, PG&E, California’s largest electric utility, has been performing a number of ‘Public Safety Power Shutoffs.’ These shutoffs are designed to alleviate fire risks surrounding their systems, but they might have greater impacts on members of our community than one would expect.

Caitlin Logan, a Summit Prep senior, had her power shut off for nearly 40 hours beginning on Oct. 26 and ending on Oct. 28.

“I was unable to do any of my schoolwork at home, so I had to go to a friend’s house to do my work … [PG&E] should have to give most of their money back to the people who are paying them instead of to the CEO and investors … There should be more regulations with regards to the amount they can give to their investors and CEO.”

Summit Prep senior Caitlin Logan

Another Summit Prep student, Carter Reid, had his power shut off by PG&E for roughly 48 hours from Oct. 26 to 28.

“The outages have affected me because it’s very difficult to live for multiple days without power. No hot water, no electricity, and no traffic or street lights make it nearly impossible to do everyday tasks … A company this big should have the means to put in more safety precautions so that something like wind won’t be so dangerous.”

Summit Prep junior Carter Reid

These experiences and beliefs regarding this situation are not unique to students of Summit. Californians from all parts of the state share these perspectives.

One commenter on a City-Data post about the PG&E power outages wrote: “PG&E is a massive system that should be broken up into Municipal power and gas authorities. These should be locally run, government agencies. We need to take the profit motive out of utilities, and have the charges people pay be plowed back into improving the system rather than going to share holders and CEOs.”

Another commenter on a local Nextdoor post stated: “Before they suspended their dividend at the end of 2017, between 2007 and 2017, [PG&E] paid between $746 million and $1.08 billion per year in dividends to their common stock shareholders … That’s what happens when you have a for profit company providing a necessity to millions of people. They put profit ahead of the public safety.”

These perspectives mirror those of lots of others affected by the outages. Many are using social media to demand change:

PG&E does have a motive for cutting off power to all these Californians. According to data obtained by KTVU News, PG&E equipment might be responsible for upwards of 400 fires started around the state in just the past year. In fact, the devastating Kincade fire, responsible for upward of 77,000 acres burned, is suspected to have been caused by a malfunctioning transmission tower.

Wildfire burns through a forest in Yellowstone National Park. PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Lewelling

Many believe that PG&E is still to blame for these shutoffs, referencing claims of mismanagement and poor allocation of money. These issues only support the growing animosity towards PG&E.

Regular citizens aren’t alone in this fight, however. On Friday, Nov. 1, California Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened a state takeover of PG&E if they remain in bankruptcy and continue their unsafe practices.

Then San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom speaks at the Web 2.0 Summit PHOTO CREDIT: JD Lasica / flickr

Later during the news conference, he said, “PG&E as we know it cannot persist and continue.” Gov. Newsom added that the company has to be “completely transformed, culturally transformed, operationally transformed with a safety culture first and foremost as part of that fundamental transformation.”

Featured image (at the top of this post): High voltage power lines stand against a cloudy sky. PHOTO CREDIT: Wolfgang Claussen / Pixabay

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