California's Largest Energy Utility Is Shutting Off Power Across the State

High winds and hot weather brought on the preemptive measure.

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  • California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, is shutting off power to nearly 800,000 customers in an attempt to reduce the risk of wildfires sparked by the agency’s poorly maintained infrastructure.
  • More than 34 counties in the state—including Humboldt, Alameda, and Santa Clara —will be affected.
  • According to the utility, the shutoffs will occur in three phases over the course of the next two days.

    More than half a million Northern California residents awoke to darkness Wednesday morning after Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the region’s largest energy utility, began the first phase of its planned Public Safety Power Shutoff. Ultimately, the utility plans to halt power to around 800,000 customers spread across high-risk regions in tens of counties throughout the state.

    Spurred by forecasts of high winds and hot weather, the preemptive measure aims to decrease the risk of wildfires caused by damage to PG&E’s aging infrastructure. The shutoff is expected to continue through midday Thursday, or until conditions sufficiently improve.

    “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,” Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president of Electric Operations told the Los Angeles Times. “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.”

    A second phase of the planned shutoff will impact over 234,000 from multiple counties—including Alameda and Santa Clara, which are home to Oakland and San Jose, respectively—and is expected to begin at 12 p.m. PDT. The utility says a third phase impacting approximately 42,000 customers throughout yet-to-be determined counties is currently being considered. Today’s planned shutoff is the second this month. Last weekend, several counties in Northern California were affected by an hours-long shutoff.

    Northerly winds have increased considerably across the northern #SacramentoValley since 3 AM. Many locations are now reporting gusts (red) of 25 to 35 mph. #CAwx #rddwx pic..com/yiBSBqoc74

    — NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) October 9, 2019

    Hot, dry, and windy weather conditions pose a significant fire danger. Several parts of California are under a red flag warning, and gusts are expected to reach up to 70 mph at higher elevations. “Tonight is when we expect the winds to reach their peak intensity, from about mid-evening all the way through about mid-morning Thursday,” weather service meteorologist Duane Dykema told the Mercury News.

    Southern California Edison, the utility responsible for providing power to Southern California’s residents, indicated it may also cut power to residents this week due to strong Santa Ana winds. Approximately 173,942 customers throughout high-risk regions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties, among others, would be affected.

    Cal OES, the state’s Office of Emergency Services, has designated several locations in impacted areas at which residents can charge phones, use restrooms, and access bottled water.

    Beginning Wed. (10/9) at 8 a.m., Community Resource Centers will be open in various locations for those impacted by #PSPS. Restrooms, bottled water and electronic-device charging will be available, among other resources. Daylight hours only. More info: https://t.co/6hk6ej25bQ pic..com/05h2gQmjG5

    — Cal OES (@Cal_OES) October 8, 2019

    While PG&E was officially cleared of responsibility for the 2017 Tubbs Fire, during which 22 people lost their lives, California’s courts have allowed victims of the fire to file lawsuits against the utility.

    In January, PG&E filed for bankruptcy. Then, in February, the utility announced its infrastructure likely caused the 2018 Camp Fire, which devastated the town of Paradise and killed 86 people.

    The number of planned power shutoffs are expected to increase in the coming years as utilities struggle to update their infrastructure in the face of increasingly hot, dry, and windy weather conditions spurred by climate change.

    As many Californians wait for the power to come back on, they’re undoubtedly left wondering: “Is this the new normal?”

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