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Federal judge considers ordering California utility to turn power off more often

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A federal judge in California on Tuesday said he is considering requiring Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to be more aggressive when it comes to turning off power lines near tall trees in attempts to prevent wildfires, a move which could double the number of power outages in Northern California over the next 10 years.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup indicated he was leaning towards stricter conditions during a two-hour court hearing aimed at preventing PG&E’s equipment from sparking future wildfires, The Associated Press reports. Alsup is overseeing PG&E’s safety precautions as part of the company’s criminal probation after its natural gas line blew up a neighborhood near San Francisco in 2010.

“My view is quite clear: We should save lives,” Alsup said. “We don’t have the luxury to wait around. I am not open to the idea that we would kick the can down the road and study the problem to death.”

The AP notes that Alsup’s statements come a day after the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection determined that a Northern California wildfire that killed four people and destroyed 200 homes last year was started by tree branches that came into contact with PG&E power lines.

“After a meticulous and thorough investigation, Cal Fire has determined that the Zogg Fire was caused by a pine tree contacting electrical distribution lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric located north of the community of Igo,” Cal Fire said in a statement.

Kevin Orsini, attorney for PG&E, told Alsup that his company shared in the judge’s goal of reducing wildfires and said the plan was workable, the AP reports.

However, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which regulates PG&E, is reportedly against additional power outages with PUC attorney Christine Hammond urging Alsup to take more time to consider the new conditions, which could force businesses and households to go without power for days.

Tags California California power shutoffs California Public Utilities Commission Pacific Gas & Electric Wildfire William Haskell Alsup Zogg Fire

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