PG&E CEO testifies at wildfire prevention hearing in D.C.

Washington

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The fight to stop the next major wildfire shifted to Washington Thursday and senators on the Energy and Natural Resources committee say the situation is urgent.

“The loss of property and life has just been horrific,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

The committee held a hearing to explore new ways to prevent fires. 

The key witness was Bill Johnson, the CEO of PG&E, California’s largest utility. 

In the last two years, PG&E equipment was found to be responsible for both California’s costliest and deadliest wildfires on record. They caused more than 100 deaths and tens of billions of dollars in damages.

“We have a lot of work to do if we’re going to make this system safe enough to deal with the current climate reality,” Johnson said. 

The committee discussed technology that would alert utilities when their equipment is at risk of sparking a fire before it happens.

Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV) says that’s promising.

“I think the technology is going to take us in a safer direction. I’m looking forward to exploring that,” she said. 

The committee challenged Johnson on the Public Safety Power Shutoffs, PG&E’s controversial mechanism for shutting power to entire communities ahead of risky fire conditions. 

“How long do you expect PGE will have to resort to PSPS events?” Sen. Murkowski asked. 

“It will take us probably five years to get to the point where we can largely eliminate this tool,” Johnson said. 

Johnson says the challenge ahead is to develop safer energy methods that don’t add costs to their ratepayers, some of whom lost home or family members to fire.

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