State Sen. Steve Glazer said Wednesday he plans to introduce legislation in January designed to help medical equipment and cellphone towers stay in operation longer in emergencies such as fires and earthquakes.

Glazer, D-Orinda, said he plans separate bills to require mobile phone companies to provide at least 72 hours of backup battery power on their cell towers and to require utilities to provide backup battery packs to all customers whose lives would be endangered by an extended power outage.

Another proposal would allow hospitals to operate diesel generators to preserve power and for as long as necessary during planned shutoffs. Running such generators, Glazer said, can get hospitals and other agencies in trouble with local air quality regulators.

Glazer said in a statement:

“Our most urgent priority is to force the utilities to do everything possible to end these outages.” 

He was referring to PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs, which are being done to help minimize fire danger caused by the utility’s equipment. In a subsequent interview, Glazer said it would also apply to unplanned outages, such as ones that could occur in an earthquake or other natural disaster.

Glazer said:

“Until we have that assurance, we must also do all we can to help our residents deal with any power outages that do occur.” 

Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda, agreed, saying these measures are needed to help counter PG&E’s planned shutoffs, caused at least in part by what she said was “PG&E’s many years of neglect, deferred maintenance and greed.”

In an interview Wednesday, Glazer said the bills were borne out of a combination of direct constituent contacts, social media posts and accounts from others about how cellphone service went out during the planned power shutoffs, That cutoff, he said, rendered many of them unable to get updates on the outages or to reach out for help.

M.O. Stevens/Wikimedia Commons State Sen. Steve Glazer announced Wednesday, November 20, 2019 that he will introduce two bills aimed at “hardening” communications and medical safety during power outages, both planned and emergency-related.

Glazer said he doesn’t know how many people stand to benefit from having battery packs, but that more than 100,000 people have signed up for PG&E’s “medical baseline” designation, which means that they depend on electricity for their health. PG&E works to notify those customers of planned power shutoffs via automated calls, texts and emails.

But for many disabled and elderly people who cannot move or have no place to go, the warnings are of limited benefit, said Glazer, who wants PG&E to do more for these people, many who rely on oxygen machines, electric wheelchairs or refrigerated medications.

In an email statement Wednesday, PG&E spokeswoman Ari Vanrenen said that over the last decade PG&E has invested more than $30 billion in its electric system alone, including $3 billion in vegetation management and tree trimming. Every year, she said, PG&E spends between $6 and $7 billion on its electric and gas systems.

Also, PG&E is working to “narrow the scope and duration” of future power shutoffs with the help of more technologically advanced weather stations and cameras that provide local data.

PG&E cannot comment on the proposed legislation without having seen it, Vanrenen said.

There likely will be three separate bills, Glazer said Wednesday, concentrating on the cell tower “hardening,” providing backup power packs to those who need them, and giving hospitals greater latitude to use the diesel generators. Each will likely have to negotiate different subcommittees, he said.

Glazer also said he doesn’t expect smooth sailing on getting the bills turned into law.

He said:

“We always get pushback — bureaucracies don’t want to change.” 

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