Once fizzled out Senate Bill 378 has found new life this month after public outcry following the planned PG&E power outages last week.
Authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), SB 378 includes a provision where businesses, customers, and local governments can get how much money they lost from the power companies within two weeks, paid entirely by shareholders. Utility companies would also have to create better risk assessment, report what the consequences of a blackout would be beforehand, and not charge customers during a blackout.
SB 378 had previously been to Senate committees in March and September but was never brought to a vote. Whereas a few weeks ago it was essentially seen as a dead bill, the effects of the planned blackout reinvigorated Senator Wiener to bring it back to the Senate floor in January.
“The recent mass blackouts in the Bay Area show exactly that we need legislation to protect residents,” explained Senator Wiener in a statement earlier this week. “Utilities now have a strong financial incentive to err on the side of blackouts – even when they aren’t necessary – and very little incentive to avoid large blackouts. These blackouts can have devastating impacts on vulnerable seniors, people with health problems, businesses, and public safety agencies. This legislation is about striking the right balance to ensure utilities don’t overlook the negative impacts to residents, businesses, and communities.”
Already there has been support from other Assemblymembers and Senators, as well as the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, and Berkeley. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has been a particularly ardent supporter.
“I am thankful to Senator Wiener for his leadership in pushing to add transparency and government oversight to large-scale power shutdowns by private utilities,” stated Mayor Liccardo. “Extended blackouts can have catastrophic safety and health impacts to our communities, and our residents and businesses want utilities’ decision-making to be accountable to the public, not shareholders.”
The only opposition to the bill so far has come from power companies such as PG&E, who believe that regulations outlined in SB 378 are going too far. Recently PG&E’s CEO Bill Johnson ignored requests from the Governor to implement a few measures that were also in the bill, such as compensation to those who lost power.
With SB 378 gaining more and more support in the wake of the outages, it is heavily expected to be voted on next session, and is already set for a hearing early next year.