State lawmaker proposing bill to guarantee cell tower power during PG&E shutoffs

Monday, December 2, 2019

By Phillipe Djegal / Kron 4

ORINDA (KRON) — The loss of cell phone service during public safety power shutoffs is unacceptable.

That’s the word from East Bay State Senator Steve Glazer.

During a news conference in Orinda Wednesday, Glazer announced proposed legislation to keep cell towers powered up when PG&E pulls the plug.

Depending on your cell phone carrier, in Orinda during last months PG&E public safety power shutoffs, you either got lucky and did not lose reception.

“We did not — but we had Verizon,” said resident Taylor Hurt. 

Others struggled for service.

Andrea Picco works in Orinda and said the loss of service was very frustrating. 

“I had to walk down to the corner to the stop sign and make a call,” she said. 

The Federal Communications Commission says more than three-percent of the state’s cell sites were out of service due to the shutoffs at the end of october.

“That’s hundreds and hundreds of cell sites,” Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) said. 

Close to 12 percent of Contra Costa County’s cell sites powered down.

A public safety issue Sen. Glazer says can’t continue to repeat itself. 

“Today, we’re proposing that the state require mobile phone companies to provide at least 72 hours of battery back-up on their towers, so that their cellular networks remain in service during these critical times,” Glazer said.

Glazer says utility companies should also be required to provide back-up battery packs for people with serious medical conditions during shutoffs, to keep refrigerated medicine cold and oxygen tanks functional.

Joined by local mayors and Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, the legislation would also allow hospitals to run diesel generators for extended periods of time to keep the lights on.

Bypassing air quality laws that impose limits on generator usage for hospitals unless the governor declares an emergency.

“Different air districts around the state are giving conflicting guidance on this issue, and that uncertainty means some hospitals can face fines or other penalties for running generators too long,” Glazer said. 

“We need to protect our communities from catastrophic wildfire, but we also need to protect them in the event of these power shutoff from the things they live with everyday,” said Bauer-Kahan.

Glazer says he intends to introduce the three-bill package when the legislature returns the first week of January.