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Silicon Valley congressman: California should take control of PG&E as wildfire blackouts persist

October 29, 2019
In The News

California Rep. Ro Khanna told CNBC on Tuesday the government should take control of PG&E as the nation’s largest utility puts millions of state residents in the dark in hopes of preventing more wildfires.

“I would have them as a public utility,” said Khanna, a Democrat whose district spans Silicon Valley. “They have failed to make the investments in the infrastructure. The regulators are too loose.”

“It’s time for the state to take ownership of PG&E, and make sure that they are doing what they need to do to keep the power on and keep people safe,” he added.

PG&E was switching power off again Tuesday — this time, to about 1.5 million people in 29 Northern California counties — as wildfires ravage parts of the state. The utility said Monday its power lines may have started two wildfires over the weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Khanna said that cutting power should not have to be the solution, stressing the company should have been and should still be updating its electrical systems. He estimated it would likely cost billions of dollars.

“In the 21st century, when you have a state that has Apple, Google and Tesla in it, there is no excuse that we can’t get power to our people on a regular basis,” the California Democrat said on “Squawk Box.”

PG&E has said that customers can now expect rolling power outages for another 10 years as it upgrades its electrical systems in response to more extreme weather conditions in California.

“This has been a decades of neglect process that has led to this crisis,” Khanna said. “There has been systematic neglect in the infrastructure and the forest management.”

“I think the key is that the state needs to run this,” he added. “It’s not enough to have just regulators.”

PG&E was not available to immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. But in the past, the utility has defended the outages, saying they were integral for the public’s safety.

“We would only take this decision ... to help reduce catastrophic wildfire risk to our customers and communities,” Michael Lewis, senior vice president of electric operations at PG&E, told CNBC over the weekend.

“There is no compromising the safety of our customers, which is our most important responsibility,” he concluded.