Monday, March 29, 2021 - 09:00

A federal judge overseeing Pacific Gas & Electric’s criminal probation said Tuesday that he is considering requiring the utility to be more aggressive about turning off its electricity lines near tall trees, a plan that could double the number of power outages for some Northern California counties over the next decade.

The proposal outlined during a two-hour court hearing is the latest effort to prevent the utility’s equipment from sparking more deadly wildfires by reducing the likelihood that trees could fall into the utility’s long-neglected electrical equipment. U.S. District Judge William Alsup is overseeing PG&E’s safety precautions as part of the utility’s criminal probation after its natural gas lines blew up a suburban neighborhood south of San Francisco in 2010.

Alsup indicated Tuesday that he is leaning toward imposing the tougher conditions.

“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 California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E, is opposing the additional power shut-offs, which it contends would impose undue hardship on about 900,000 people who live in the mostly rural counties of Trinity, Placer, Shasta, Tehama, Madera and Mendocino.

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