As California utility Pacific Gas and Electric continues to face criticism for multiple planned power shutoffs that left thousands of customers in the dark last month, the company is asking the public not to take their frustration out on PG&E employees.
Some PG&E employees have received death threats in response to the shutoffs, PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said Wednesday.
“Our employees in the field have repeatedly been the targets of misguided attacks. Not just verbal abuse, but threats on their lives,” Johnson said. “One was assaulted after being cornered in his vehicle. Several have been shot at.”
An employee driving a company vehicle was intentionally run off the road by an angry motorist, Johnson said.
“They are there to help turn (power) back on. And if you do something that makes them feel unsafe, they are instructed to stop what they are doing and stand down,” Johnson said.
The utility giant cut power to thousands of customers on multiple dates in October as California faced strong winds that PG&E said posed wildfire threats.
About 6,700 PG&E customers were still without power in parts of Northern California as of 5 p.m. PT on Thursday, the utility’s Senior Director Mark Quinlan said in a news conference Thursday, a decrease from the 40,000 customers without power Thursday morning.
PG&E said that it expected to return service to everyone who can receive it by the end of the day Thursday, with the exception of infrastructure that is within or adjacent to the Kincade Fire, state’s largest active wildfire, and in areas that need repairs, Quinlan said.
There are currently 156 confirmed instances of damage, such as broken poles or trees tangled in wires, said Quinlan, adding that the number is expected to rise as more instances are processed.
He pointed to the damage in defending the outages, a practice known as Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS).
“These real hazards that we’re finding could have been potential fire ignitions, and that’s important to understand and really is the foundation of why we have a PSPS program in the first place,” Quinlan said.
Earlier this year, California regulators passed rules allowing utilities to intentionally cut power to prevent wildfires. The commission said the state’s investor-owned electric utilities could proactively interrupt power to reduce the chances that their equipment could cause or contribute to a wildfire.
But PG&E has been heavily criticized for how it has handled its planned outages.
California Governor Gavin Newsom urged the public to remember that PG&E employees are also being affected by the shutoffs.
“Treat your PG&E workers with respect,” Newsom said. “They’re your community members. They didn’t create this mess, they’re trying to fix it.”