Taking Back Our Power: PG & E’s Electric Grid Shut Off Threatens People with Disabilities

Deborah Kaplan

Listen (28 min)

P.G.& E. expects to cut off power when fire conditions are strong this year — it’s a fire prevention measure.  But the consequences for people who use electricity for ventilators, oxygen, and other disability life supports have not been taken seriously.

These sustained power outages will have dire consequences if better preparations aren’t made — as this letter of protest from Alameda Supervisor Keith Carson makes clear.

Richard Skaff and Deborah Kaplan tell us what shut-offs will mean, how long they might last, how widespread they might be, how we may know they are coming and, most importantly, What We Can Do About It, both as individuals and as a community.

Richard Skaff

Richard Skaff is the Executive Director of Designing Accessible Communities, a member of the Coalition of Disability Access Professionals and retired from the San Francisco Mayor’s Office on Disability.  Deborah Kaplan is the founder of Enterprise Accessibility.  She has been involved in technology accessibility for many years in various roles, and was the executive director of the World Institute on Disability for 8 years.

WARNING: SPARKS OF RAGE MAY OCCUR AS A RESULT OF LISTENING TO THIS SHOW. We suggest grounding them in the well of activism and channeling them to keep that renewable energy resource strong! We’ll tell you how.

Richard Skaff has gathered treasure trove of documentation, reports and detailed solutions, and provided them to Pushing Limits.  Inform yourself by reading the documents and following the links below.

Stories of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E’s) egregious escapades and dastardly deeds have been a recurring theme of our news feeds for almost a decade, at least since the San Bruno pipeline explosion in 2010.  People with electromagnetic sensitivity have been the canaries in the coal mine when it came to smart meters and the stories have become even more prevalent in the recent fire-ridden years. . . NOW THE FIRE’S GETTING HOTTER!

Sheela Gunn-Cushman produces and hosts.
Background support from Adrienne Lauby and Mark Romoser.


Save These Dates:

PG&E Wildfire Safety Webinar
PG&E will share information about their Community Wildfire Safety Program (CWSP).  This webinar will provide an additional opportunity for anyone who is interested in PG&E’s wildfire safety efforts to receive a presentation from PG&E leadership, ask questions and provide feedback.
Topics include:
–Expansion of the Public Safety Power Shutoff program
–Accelerated safety inspections of electric infrastructure
–Enhanced vegetation management around power lines
–Hardening the electric system for the future by replacing equipment and installing stronger and more resilient poles and covered power lines

Monday, July 22, 2019, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Access by clicking this link
Additional options for audio listening:
Toll-Free Attendee Dial In: 855-247-4312
Passcode: 8482036
*Event Notes:  Please note that for optimal viewing, it is best not to use VPN, but instead to connect directly to the Internet.  Please disable your pop-up blockers in order to view the content in its entirety.  This event is being streamed. It is recommended that you listen via your computer speakers.

If your question concerns disability issues, contact:
Deirdre Walke
PG&E ADA Program Manager
Phone: 916-386-5240
Email  deirdre.walke@pge.com


PG&E Rate Hearings for Gas and Electricity

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) is asking the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to increase rates for electricity and gas. This is on top of other bailout charges on your bill. We need more Oakland residents to speak up at next week’s hearing in Oakland!  Other hearings are coming up. See below for a link to the schedule.

Wednesday, July 24, 1:00 PM & 6:00 PM
Elihu M.Harris State Building, 1515 Clay St, Oakland
Submit comments online.
Find a hearing near you.
Facebook Event for Oakland Hearing.

General Information

Prepare for Powerdown is a site with general info about the public safety power shut-offs and contact info for the utility companies that will be, and are, implementing them: San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Southern CA Edison (SCE) and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)

Information on PG&E Open Houses on Wildfire Preparedness

Important Links

Op Ed by Richard Skaff: Power Outages and De-Energization Can Be Deadly to People with Disabilities

Emergency Power Planning for People Who Use Electricity and Battery Dependent Assistive Technology and Medical Devices

Home Health Care in the Dark: Why Climate, Wildfires and Other Risks Call for New Resilient Energy Storage Solutions to Protect Medically Vulnerable Households From Power Outages  Excellent 34 pp report.

Long Term Solutions:
Green Mountain Power in Vermont is leading the way with innovation for energy storage. The system will allow customers to store their own energy and power their homes during outages, and when paired with solar, the system can last even longer during a power outage. Customers can participate in the Pilot for $15 a month for 10 years or a $1,500 one-time fee. In doing so, they will receive backup power to their home for at least the next 10 years, eliminating the need for traditional, fossil-fuel-fired backup generators.

Using Customer Batteries as a Power Source Saved Vt. Utility $500K

Sun Run “Building a More Resilient Grid: Home Solar & Storage Mitigate Wildfire Impacts”

The Solar Bill of Rights for California


Disability Stakeholder Deenergization Program Recommendations

The following deenergization recommendations, when implemented, would provide immediate relief, reassurance, and increased safety for Californians with disabilities who rely on electrical power to meet their medical needs. While public utilities must continue to provide information about deenergization programs to the state’s whole community, they are also responsible for taking proactive steps to assure those who depend on electricity to operate needed/required life-sustaining equipment (medical and mobility equipment) will have it. The following recommendations (again, when implemented) will provide actual electricity-providing systems or other equivalent alternatives for individuals to ensure their safety and life functions continue during the utility’s proactive deenergization actions.

  1. Establish a “loan closet” program for individuals with disabilities to borrow generators in advance of power outages. Safety training would need to be incorporated as part of the program and provisions to address the installation of transfer switches when using a generator, so those using generators won’t accidentally reenergize the utility power lines, will need to be developed. This program should also include the provision of multiple power units (generators or whole house battery systems like the Tesla home battery system) to local fire stations, so the first-responders can take a unit to individuals who have not been identified.
  2. Continue working in partnership with disability stakeholders to present at conferences, meetings, and events to inform the community about the deenergization program and the options the utilities will make available to people with disabilities. That interaction should also take place during the utility active deenergization events.
  3. Establish a mechanism to inform customers with disabilities, who require climate control, where local cooling and warming centers are located. If such centers do not exist, PG&E should open them. PG&E should also contract with local paratransit companies to provide immediate transportation for customers with disabilities with free shuttle service to/from climate control centers on very short notice from the time power is turned off.
  4. Provide all individuals who are eligible for the reduced cost power program with a medic alert membership and a plug-in alarm that sounds when the power goes off and calls the medic alert program.
  5. Identify high-risk customers, especially in the urban wild land interface areas, and put them on an emergency follow up list. During power outages and/or evacuations, first responders and volunteer disaster workers (local CERT volunteers-statewide) should coordinate with PG&E to contact those individuals to confirm they are safe.
  6. Provide eligible disabled customers with emergency planning information and assistance with a needs assessment and emergency plan. Plan preparation includes technical assistance with the plan and power-related equipment needed to implement it.
  7. Establish a grant program to provide eligible customers with disabilities with backup batteries, and other emergency-related items to prepare for power outages.
  8. Create a zero-interest loan program whereby individuals with disabilities can borrow funds to purchase emergency preparedness equipment to increase their overall emergency preparedness posture.
  9. Supply individuals with disabilities with KnoxBox units so if they are unable to mobilize themselves and first responders are sent to the person’s home/apartment, fire and paramedic personnel who have the KnoxBox master key (no one else, including family can have a KnoxBox key for security) in their vehicles can easily and quickly get to those individuals. For more info regarding KnoxBox, visit their website https://www.knoxbox.com/

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