PG&E defends its handling of storm calls

With 3,800 Bay Area customers still without power caused by storms that ravaged the Bay Area on Friday, Pacific Gas and Electric officials admitted that the call center was initially overwhelmed by the crush of calls when the tempest hit the state.

“Over the last several days we took 1.5 million calls into the call center,” said PG&E spokesman David Eisenhauer. “At the very start of the storm, we did have customers who had to wait a long time to get the answers they needed, but we very quickly brought in extra staff.”

By Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., 1,700 customers in the North Bay, 740 on the Peninsula, 720 in the South Bay, 80 in the East Bay and 10 in San Francisco remained without power, bringing the number of Bay Area outages slightly above Monday’s levels.

Seventy-seven customers — all in the North Bay — have been without power since Friday, said PG&E spokeswoman Katie Romans. From the Oregon border to Bakersfield, 24,000 customers were experiencing their fifth day in the dark.

The current outages add to a growing frustration with the power company, said Mindy Spatt, spokeswoman for The Utilities Reform Network.

“Most people get out an umbrella when it rains. We have learned to get out a flashlight,” Spatt said.

Spatt said the power routinely goes out in much milder storms, and suggested PG&E lavishes its resources on public relations campaigns while neglecting customer service.

“You can’t leave your house without seeing an ad for how green they are, but are there enough people staffing their call center? Are there enough people on the ground?”

According to Eisenhauer, the company is staffed to its limits, with people working overtime to take calls, right power lines and replace machinery. When news of the storm broke, PG&E eliminated any time off and nixed vacation requests, he said.

PG&E officials expect all customers to have power restored by Thursday.

The weather is likely to cooperate, said National Weather Service forecaster Diana Henderson. Though there is a 30 percent chance of rain in the Bay Area today and a 40 percent chance Thursday, showers will dissipate by Thursday evening. Winds are expected to die down today.

tbarak@examiner.com

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