PG&E weathering flak over its response to CA storms

SAN FRANCISCO: As relentless winter storms pound the Bay Area, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is taking a beating itself.

SAN FRANCISCO: As relentless winter storms pound the Bay Area, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is taking a beating itself.

The power company, which provides power to nearly five million customers throughout California, is facing criticism from customers and the media about its response to the adverse weather. As heavy rain and high winds have left many in the dark, PG&E's detractors don't feel it is working fast enough.

Customer complaints to the Public Utilities Commission in late December were nearly double what they were last year, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. The paper itself has also been critical of PG&E, running a story asserting that the Bay Area has more blackouts than Indianapolis, Connecticut, Virginia, and Rochester, NY, all of which have to deal with snow, ice, and freezing temperatures.

"One outage is one too many, and the media is receptive to that message," said PG&E media representative Christy Dennis. "At times it can be frustrating. Some reporters come to us with a story angle already in mind."

So the media relations staff is working overtime to get the message out that PG&E is working as hard and fast as it can.

And while the media relations office responds around the clock to requests for statistics - such as the number of people without power, or the number of power poles blown down - the staffers always try to ensure the media also spreads the word that PG&E is doing its best to make those figures smaller.

"This is the largest storm we have faced in years," said PG&E media relations executive Jennifer Ramp. "Almost 2.8 million customers have been affected. We're working 12 to 15 hours a day. One day I came in at 5am, and I was on the air with local TV and radio stations by 5:08am."

Dennis and Ramp said that while the media is receptive to their efforts to spread the word, the media sometimes has its own agenda, as in the Chronicle story.

"We had one SVP write to the Chronicle, disputing the article," said Dennis. "We don't do that willy-nilly. You can't respond to every criticism. But that story unfairly compared us to different-sized parts of the US."

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