In an unprecedented move, Pacific Gas & Electric early Wednesday began shutting off power to about 800,000 customers across Northern California in an attempt to avoid wildfires caused by winds damaging power equipment.
The first power cutoffs, expected to affect 513,000 customers, began shortly after midnight in several counties around Sacramento, including Placer and Yuba, amid strengthening winds and continued to roll out into the early morning hours.
The blackouts will impact 34 counties in Central and Northern California. It would be the biggest power shutdown so far as utilities across the state attempt to reduce wildfire risk due to heavy wind. Utilities malfunctions have been tied to some of the state’s most destructive fires, including last year’s Camp fire, which devastated Paradise, Calif., and the 2017 wine country blazes.
“It is a very blunt way of approaching the situation, but at the same time, there’s an understanding of why it’s being undertaken,” said Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, who noted PG&E’s announcement came on the second anniversary of the 2017 firestorm. “We have vulnerable populations, our elderly and young children. We’re mostly concerned about them.” . . .
“Power shut-offs in the face of really widespread dangerous fire weather, which is what we’re confronting, may be the best thing we can do for the time being,” Wara said. “In the long run, PG&E needs to fix its grid. And so does Edison … so they can use power shut-offs as a more limited tool like a scalpel rather than the blunt instrument they have now.”
Some state and local officials also have complained that utilities don’t always give enough notice before turning off the power. And they have expressed concerns about communications and evacuations if the power is out, especially if traffic signals don’t work and cellphone service is affected. (Read more from “Here’s Why Parts of California Will Have No Power for Nearly a Week” HERE)