After an outcry from over 450,000 California residents affected by a series of planned blackouts by PG&E in October and November, Sacramento will introduce three new bills to the Senate in 2020. The bills focus on requiring cell phone and electric companies to provide emergency backup power for towers and hospitals.
During the blackouts, in Marin County alone, over half of the cell towers shut down.
Fire and police services who lost both cell and internet service had to rely on radios to coordinate in some areas, putting thousands of lives at risk, reported the California Globe.
According to Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan’s website, the legislation proposes the following:
- One of the measures would require cell phone providers to have at least 72 hours of emergency backup power at all of their towers in areas projected to be affected by wildfires, which also includes areas where voluntary shutdowns occur to reduce the chances of wildfires.
- Another bill would give emergency backup battery packs or battery-powered chargers to customers who live in areas affected by long-term planned blackouts.
- A third measure would allow hospitals to run diesel generators during a planned blackout and would change laws that currently bar such a generator from running due to air pollution concerns.
“We must also do all we can to help our residents deal with any power outages,” said Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan, who is proposing the bills in conjunction with Senator Steve Glazer.
“Our most urgent priority is to force the utilities to do everything possible to end these outages,” said Senator Glazer in a statement. “Until we have that assurance, we must also do all we can to help our residents deal with any power outages that do occur.”
According to a cell tower worker interviewed by the Globe, some kinks need to be worked out before these bills pass. Where will the batteries and generators go? How will you refill a generator that runs on fuel during a wildfire? Who will pay for adding thousands upon thousands of batteries and generators to existing towers? The worker questioned whether whoever wrote the bill “has never even stood next to a cell tower before.”
Per the Globe, better communication between power companies and carriers is needed. During a recent California Public Utilities Commission meeting, Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves said, “The customers need to know where there’s coverage and where there’s not, and the local responders need to know.”
Conversely, carriers were frustrated that PG&E didn’t update them regarding the affected areas during the blackout. The bills proposed by Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan and Senator Glazer are expected to be introduced when the Senate and Assembly sessions begin in January.
December 11, 2019
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