PG&E warns customers that a power shutoff could be coming

California utility Pacific Gas & Electric on the afternoon of Oct. 21 began 48-hour advance notifications to customers that it may be proactively turning power off for safety and conducting a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) on late Wednesday evening.

The warning comes after the utility earlier this month initiated a massive power shutoff that has drawn the attention of state utility regulators.

Since Monday, Oct. 20, PG&E’s emergency operations center has been open and teams have been monitoring a dry, offshore wind event.

“PG&E’s meteorological and operations teams continue to monitor weather models that show potential strong and dry offshore wind gusts that may exceed 55 mph late Wednesday evening through Thursday afternoon for portions of the Sierra Foothills. Gusts of 35-45 mph have been forecast for some North Bay counties, with some localized areas expected to experience 55 mph gusts,” the utility said.

State officials classify more than half of PG&E's 70,000-square-mile service area in Northern and Central California as having a high fire threat, given dry grasses and the high volume of dead and dying trees. The state's high-risk areas have tripled in size in seven years, the utility said.

The potential safety shutoff is planned for varying start times depending on location beginning Wednesday evening and is expected to affect approximately 209,000 customers and may impact portions of 15 counties in the Sierra Foothills and the North Bay, including Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Mateo, Sierra, Sonoma, Sutter, and Yuba.

Customer notifications via text, email and automated phone call began the afternoon of Oct. 21, approximately 48 hours prior to the potential de-energization.

A primary focus will be given to those customers who rely on electricity for critical life-sustaining equipment.

“The sole purpose of a PSPS event is to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire ignitions,” the utility said. “Windy conditions, like those being forecast later in the week, increase the potential for damage and hazards to the electric infrastructure, which could cause sparks if lines are energized. These conditions also increase the potential for rapid fire spread.”

PG&E says improvements have been made since last PSPS

PG&E said that several improvements have been implemented since the last PSPS event on October 9-12.

For this event, customers visiting the website are being redirected to a special, strength-tested site that can accommodate high volumes of traffic, the utility said.

In addition, PG&E said its contact center will be better able to manage increased call volume due to the event and is prioritizing emergency, outage and PSPS-related inquiries.

At an Oct. 21 hearing held by the California Public Utilities Commission related to this month’s massive shutoff, William Johnson, President and CEO of PG&E Corporation, which is the parent company of PG&E, said “When people needed information, our website and call centers were underequipped to meet that challenge. When people could access our site, the maps showing potentially impacted areas were not dependable.”