PG&E could preemptively shut off power for a huge swath of Northern California on Wednesday and Thursday.
The utility announced Monday that a potential “strong and dry wind event” could prompt the “public safety power shutoff” in around 30 California counties, including Alameda. The National Weather Service has issued a fire weather alert for much of Northern California this week.
“The dry, windy weather pattern is expected to reach from the northern portions of PG&E’s service territory and down through the Sacramento Valley before spreading into the central areas of the state including most of the Bay Area,” PG&E said in a news alert.
Buried within PG&E’s website is a map showing where the outage could take place, including the Berkeley and Oakland hills, and other parts of North Berkeley and the Cal campus area.
The shutoff, potentially lasting from Wednesday morning until Thursday afternoon, is meant to target fire-prone areas only, but could end up affecting any of PG&E’s 5 million customers because of power line connections, the utility said. (Although Berkeley switched over to East Bay Community Energy last year, PG&E still manages the power lines throughout the city and beyond.)
The state granted PG&E and other utilities the authority to shut off power last year, after massive wildfires killed dozens of people in California. The utility’s equipment was found responsible for starting several of the fires, including the deadliest in the state’s history, the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise.
This summer PG&E launched a new website to help customers prepare for wildfires and potential public safety power shutoffs. The utility gave a presentation to the Berkeley City Council in July about the potential impacts of such shutoffs on local residents. Officials raised concerns about the effect on people who use electricity to power medical equipment, and on cell towers and reservoirs.
PG&E says up-to-date information on this week’s potential shutoff can be found online. The utility will also attempt to contact customers by phone, email and text if the shutoff is planned. Non-customers can sign up for a new Public Safety Power Shutoff Zip Code alert.
BART is unlikely to be affected by a shutoff. In an August post on its website the transit agency writes: “A PSPS in our region is not anticipated to impact train service because BART has flexibility to pull power from other sections of our traction power supply system to replace power turned off in a PSPS, ensuring continuous train operations.”
In its alert Monday, PG&E issued the following tips on how customers can prepare for the possible shutoff:
- Update their contact information at pge.com/mywildfirealerts or by calling 1-866-743-6589 during normal business hours. PG&E will use this information to alert customers through automated calls, texts, and emails, when possible, prior to, and during, a Public Safety Power Shutoff.
- Plan for medical needs like medications that require refrigeration or devices that need power.
- Identify backup charging methods for phones and keep hard copies of emergency numbers.
- Build or restock your emergency kit with flashlights, fresh batteries, first aid supplies and cash.
- Keep in mind family members who are elderly, younger children and pets. Information and tips including a safety plan checklist are available at pge.com/wildfiresafety.
- Learn more about wildfire risk and what to do before, during and after an emergency to keep your family safe at PG&E’s Safety Action Center.
This story is being updated as more information becomes available.