San Jose to receive $500,000 from state for PG&E power outages

Following a tumultuous month of power outages and fire warnings, San Jose lawmakers announced on Friday that San Jose, alongside other California cities, will receive half a million in state funds to help cover costs accumulated as a result of last month’s recent set of blackouts.

In addition to San Jose, other large cities including Oakland, San Diego and Los Angeles, will receive $500,000, while each county in the state is set to get $150,000.

The reimbursement, sourced from the state’s annual budget, is part of a $75 million state fund designated for emergency preparedness resources, such as back-up generators, to keep hospitals and fire stations up and running in the event of another blackout.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and State Sen. Jim Beall hosted a news conference Friday, thanking state officials for what they said was a good first step in building better infrastructure to curb the effects of future blackouts. Liccardo said he wants to use some of the money for funding his ambitious proposal to build “microgrids” – hybrid off-grid solar systems with backup utility power – by installing much-needed infrastructure in areas requiring high levels of redevelopment and investment.

“I think what we can do right now is find out what we can do to piece together a strong utility system in California and especially in San Jose,” said Beall. “This will be a major task that we have to work on right now.”

Following residents’ frustration over last month’s earlier set of blackouts – originally thought to last up to 7 days – Liccardo introduced the proposal last month set to decrease reliance on PG&E for the city’s power supply, which also includes exploring the option of transitioning to a customer-owned utility.

The outages last month predominantly affected East San Jose along the foothills and Almaden Valley in South San Jose — areas adjacent to the city’s wildlife corridor, predisposed to exceptionally strong winds and dry brush. PG&E is enforcing stricter safety precautions as California’s fire season grows dangerously more deadly, as strong winds, warm temperatures and extremely dry conditions create the perfect conditions for a catastrophic blaze.

On Friday, both lawmakers criticized PG&E for poor management and operational decisions that resulted in leaving more than 850,000 customers across 36 counties in California without power. Liccardo said the company’s unreliability and massive payouts to corporate executives are examples of why he thinks the city should transition to a customer-owned utility, operated similarly to a credit union or a mutual insurance company, where customers own equity in the company.

“The focus is dealing with the crisis today and ensuring will have resilience for tomorrow,” Liccardo said. “Last week, I proposed that PG&E be reorganized to a customer-owned utility that would be similar to what we see in other industries. It would enable the financial interest of PG&E to be better aligned with the public’s interest or enable us to have a more sustainable company moving forward.”

The longtime senator said a Senate committee is being created and holding its first hearing Nov. 18 to discuss strategies to boost fire and blackout preparedness, prevention and mitigation.

“It’s time for PG&E to focus on dealing with their equipment and maintenance and reduce expenditures in things like giving their high salary employees bonuses,” Beall added.

Eventually, Liccardo hopes to transition to a better power system with updated infrastructure–but it won’t happen overnight. While PG&E officials said they’ll need at least ten years to improve infrastructure, Beall added that wasn’t good enough, and expects the company to complete the fixes in the next three years.

As the blackouts become more frequent, Liccardo hopes to decrease reliance on PG&E for the city’s power supply during California’s deadly wildfire season. Liccardo said a more thorough discussion on mitigating power outages and expanding on potential revenue sources for his “microgrids” infrastructure proposal will occur in a few weeks during a future City Council meeting.

“This is a multiple billion dollar proposition,” added Liccardo. “Nonetheless, we need to get started.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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