Senator McGuire introduces legislation mandating early notification prior to planned power shutdowns

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Sacramento, CA – With the size and scope of wildland fires in California intensifying, and electric utility companies planning to increase the use of power shutoffs to mitigate fire risks when severe weather is predicted, communication and advanced warning is more important than ever.

Residents, emergency officials and hospitals have been left with the possibility of being caught unaware without sufficient notice. It can be a life or death scenario. That is why Senator McGuire has introduced a bill mandating electric utility companies provide early notification prior to planned power shutdowns.

“You shouldn’t have to legislate common sense. You shouldn’t have to create a law requiring utility companies to communicate with health care facilities and first responders prior to a planned power shutdown. But, we’ve unfortunately learned that this is necessary to ensure the health and safety of Californians,” Senator Mike McGuire said. “SB 560 requires that police, fire, sheriff departments, health care facilities and telecommunication providers receive prior notification of de-energizing events when their facilities will be impacted. This will help ensure the health and well-being of neighbors during power shutdowns.”

SB 560 is a simple step to mitigate risks during times of crisis by requiring utilities to report de-energizing of electrical outages to first responders, healthcare facilities and telecommunication providers ahead of outages to ensure better coordination and communication. 

Power shutoffs are intended as a utility’s last resort to mitigate the risk of fire. However, the growing threats of catastrophic wildfires and recent experience of the devastation and liability posed by wildfires means the voluntary use of power shutoffs is likely to increase. 

Currently, despite requirements to create notification procedures, there’s not a requirement that the actual notifications occur to first responders, health care facilities, and telecommunication services.

Communities have unfortunately experienced the lack of communication and notification from PG&E, and making it a requirement is the next step in ensuring proper notification is received.

“PG&E initiated a power shutdown in Lake County last October and what we saw was a complete lack of planning and inadequate notification on the part of the utility,” Senator McGuire said. “There are medically fragile residents who are on oxygen and need electricity to survive. We have to know that first responders who will answer at their time of need get advanced warning when the power is being shut down.”

Electric utility companies must have concrete plans to effectively work with local communities to ensure critical stakeholders are getting the information they need to keep Californians safe. SB 560 will ensure that our state and local emergency officials, first responders and telecommunication companies have the crucial information they need to respond in de-energizing events.