SB 378 (Wiener), Addressing Utilities’ Roles in Power Shutoffs, Moves to the Assembly


By Strider Kachelein

SB 378 (Wiener), as amended January 21, 2020, is a two-year bill that would add sections 592, 748, 776.7, 911.3, and 2111.5 to the Public Utilities Code to impose numerous requirements related to an electrical investor-owned utility’s (IOU) decision to proactively shut off power, including requiring reimbursement of specified costs, specified penalties for shutting off power, and other reporting. According to the author, the bill aims “to create some incentive for IOUs to use planned blackouts more judiciously and in a more targeted fashion.” Of note, new section 592 would require utilities to submit an annual report to the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) Wildfire and Safety Division that would include information on their electrical equipment and the current and future fire and safety risks this equipment could pose.

New Section 748 would allow customers and local governments to recover costs from electric corporations incurred during a power shutoff. It would also require the CPUC, in consultation with the Public Advocate’s Office, to establish procedures for consumers and local governments to recover the costs on or before June 1, 2021, and also requires the Commission to establish rules to determine whether utilities can recover these expenses from ratepayers. New section 2111.5 would establish a civil penalty on utilities of at least $250,000 per 50,000 customers affected for every hour of a “deenergization event” if the utility did not act in a reasonable and prudent manner in this event’s execution. The utilities’ shareholders would have to exclusively pay this penalty. SB 378 passed out of the Senate on a 25-2 vote on January 27, 2020, and is currently pending referral to a policy committee in the Assembly.


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