How PG&E works every day to earn customer trust
It’s been a little over a year since I left my home state of Michigan to become CEO of PG&E. I came for one reason: to help this company do it right and make it safe for the people it serves.
I had no illusions about the magnitude of the challenge. I knew we were on federal probation for the 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno. I knew our history of devastating forest fires. I knew fundamental changes were needed.
Last month, as our federal probation drew to a close, the presiding judge said he had yet to see such changes and described PG&E in harshly critical terms. I consider the judge’s opinions to be true expressions of the pain and frustration that many Californians feel toward PG&E, and I take them to heart.
But such characterizations of my 40,000 colleagues and contract partners are wrong. The people of PG&E get up every day to serve their neighbors. Many have lived in California for generations. They come to work for the same reason I do: to provide an essential service that improves the lives of all the people and places we hold dear.
What is also wrong is the assumption that PG&E has not changed or is unable to change. The truth is that we are not the same company as a year ago, either structurally or culturally.
Since mid-2020, we have replaced our Board of Directors and our management team. These new leaders have been recruited from strong utilities across the country, bringing deep experience to all levels of our industry.
We changed the operational DNA of our business in 2021, introducing a system of data-driven daily checks to quickly raise and resolve issues, across the business. We brought together five new regional teams to better tailor our services to the unique needs of our hometowns.
We have invested billions of dollars to meet our major wildfire mitigation commitments, including tree trimming, inspections, system hardening and repairs. We use public safety blackouts more surgically, affecting far fewer customers while preventing fires in dry, windy weather. In 2021, approximately 80,000 customers experienced a PSPS event, compared to over 650,000 in 2020.
Last July, we redesigned approximately half of our electrical circuits in high-fire risk areas to more quickly detect potential spark hazards and automatically shut off power to prevent potential ignitions. Under record-breaking drought conditions, these adjustments reduced ignitions on these sections of power lines by 80% compared to previous years, the largest reduction we’ve had since we started tracking them.
This year, 100% of our power lines in high fire risk areas will have these capabilities. And we don’t stop there in our commitment to ending catastrophic wildfires. In the years to come, we are reimagining the electrical system for the climate we live in by burying 10,000 miles of power lines. We’ll share more details, including year-by-year mileage goals, later this month.
Our customers should know that we are not standing idly by: we are working every day to make our energy system more secure and we are making progress. Yes, there is much more to do; it will take time and will require partnership with our communities and the state.
We know we can only earn your trust back the hard way – day by day, block by block, mile by mile. I, and all the men and women of PG&E, are here for the duration. And we won’t stop until we get it right and secure.
Patti Poppe is CEO of PG&E.