In Unprecedented Move, PG&E Cuts Power to 800,000 Customers

Power lines at sunset.

Updated 10/10/19 10:15 a.m.—PG&E has restored power to approximately 50,000 customers in the Sierra Foothills since the shutoff began.

Sometimes, it’s good to have backup power, and, for 800,000 customers of PG&E, that time would be now.

On Oct. 8, the utility announced that, in anticipation of high winds over areas of extremely dry brush, it started shutting down power to customers over a 34-county region for several days, beginning the evening of Oct. 10, giving customers approximately 24-hours notice.

The utility calls the move a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS). “The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our most important responsibility, which is why PG&E has decided to turn power off to customers during this widespread, severe wind event,” said Michael Lewis, the utility’s senior vice president of Electric Operations. “We understand the effects this event will have on our customers and appreciate the public’s patience as we do what is necessary to keep our communities safe and reduce the risk of wildfire.”

The company began notifying potentially impacted customers on Oct. 8, and will continue to do so, via automated calls, texts and emails. However, according to PG&E, customers not directly impacted by the PSPS may still experience outages due to PG&E equipment that might be unexpectedly damaged during the anticipated major wind event. “Those customers will not be notified in advance,” said PG&E.

According to the utility, it is also possible that customers may have their power shut down even if they are not in the wind-affected areas. “This is because the electric system relies on power lines working together to provide electricity across cities, counties, and regions,” said PG&E.

While most of the regions affected are rural, the outage will also impact California’s wine country, as well as portions of Oakland, Berkeley and San Jose. “It is absolutely unprecedented,” said Maggie Fleming, a Sonoma County spokesperson, in a Wall Street Journal article on Wednesday.

In addition, those who experience the outage will be without power completely. The lines will be completely dead. Of course, customers with their own backup power (such as solar, batteries, generators, etc.), will be free to generate their own power during the outage.

How long will the outage last? That cannot be determined at this time. It’s not simply a matter of turning the power back on once the winds die down. “Before restoring power, PG&E must inspect its equipment for damage and make any necessary repairs,” said the utility. “That process cannot begin until the severe weather event has subsided.” As a result, PG&E is telling customers to be prepared for “an extended outage,” which may last several days.

In the meantime, the utility is opening a number of Community Resource Centers, which will remain open during daylight hours only.

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