Safety from shutoffs

By Scott Thomas Anderson

Some utility providers are making sure that the economic hardship caused by the spreading novel coronavirus doesn’t make it even harder for them to hunker down in their homes.

Last week, Pacific Gas & Electric Company was the first major utility to announce it would temporarily halt disconnecting power to customers unable to pay their bills during the COVID-19 outbreak. The move aims to ease financial concerns about complying with social distancing directives as the state of California tries to flatten the infection curve. PG&E added that this policy applies to both residential and commercial customers and is in effect until further notice.

“Our most important responsibility is the health and safety of our customers and employees,”PG&E senior vice president Laurie Giammona said in a release.

On March 13, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District followed suit, granting nonpayment amnesty to its customers through March 31. SMUD CEO and general manager Arlen Orchard said his company was trying to do its part to help the region get through an increasingly unstable time.

That same day, the Sacramento City Council approved a number of emergency measures to respond to the coronavirus. Though city staff had not contemplated it, District 4 Councilman Steve Hansen requested protection from power shutoffs for city residents. Mayor Darrell Steinberg and City Manager Howard Chan agreed that they could make that happen without adding it to the provisional ordinance the council was passing at that moment. Neither specified how long that policy will be in effect.

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