Thousands of Californians Are Powerless On 2nd Day Of PG&E’s Intentional Outages – NPR

A car drives through a darkened Montclair Village as Pacific Gas & Electric power shutdowns continue in Oakland, Calif. The area remains without power after the utility cut service hoping to prevent wildfires during dry, windy conditions.

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A car drives through a darkened Montclair Village as Pacific Gas & Electric power shutdowns continue in Oakland, Calif. The area remains without power after the utility cut service hoping to prevent wildfires during dry, windy conditions.

Noah Berger/AP

Hundreds of thousands of Californians are without power, some for the second straight day, after energy giant Pacific Gas & Electric temporarily cut off service to their accounts. The state’s largest utility says the outage will mitigate risks of wind-fueled wildfires.

PG&E says the decision to cut power “was based on forecasts of dry, windy weather including potential fire risk” in California, which is currently at the peak of its wildfire season.

With winds gusting overnight, a 40-acre hillside blaze prompted evacuation orders for sections of the town of Moraga, about 15 miles east of Oakland, early Thursday morning. Those orders were later lifted, as firefighters contained the fire.

The National Weather Service in San Francisco issued a red flag warning Thursday, for the Santa Cruz Mountains as well as hills and valleys in the North Bay and East Bay areas through 5 p.m. local Thursday.

The NWS forecasts wind gusts from 45 to 65 mph across some parts of the area, saying the wind, coupled with low humidity and dry terrain, “will create critical fire weather conditions” for much of Thursday.

A customer shops for groceries at La Tapatia Market during a blackout in Napa, Calif. as California utility giant PG&E carries out a wide scale intentional blackout to keep power lines from sparking blazes.

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A customer shops for groceries at La Tapatia Market during a blackout in Napa, Calif. as California utility giant PG&E carries out a wide scale intentional blackout to keep power lines from sparking blazes.

Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Transmission lines operated by PG&E have been linked to wildfires that have decimated several California communities.

PG&E has come under intense scrutiny for mismanaging sections of its power grid. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January as it faced billions of dollars’ worth of possible liabilities stemming from years of devastating fires in Northern California.

Since the outages began on Wednesday, the blackouts have sparked outrage among residents in the 34 affected counties. State Sen. Scott Wiener estimated that 2.5 million people could be impacted.

The second phase of PG&E’s shut-off began late Wednesday. It was expected to impact roughly 234,000 customers, including people who live in East Bay, South Bay and Santa Cruz and residents of counties such as Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara.

In the midst of confusion and frustration over the outages, there has been some positive news for PG&E customers. The utility tweeted that restorations have begun in some areas, and that 126,000 customers have their power back on.

But some 600,000 customers are still without electricity.

“For restoration to begin, crews must inspect affected equipment to ensure no damage has occurred. As of 10 a.m., PG&E has not issued an ‘all clear,’ ” PG&E said.

The San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District tweeted late Thursday morning that the “vast majority of San Ramon” had their power restored.

When the first phase of blackouts began early Wednesday, it affected about 513,000 customers in counties such as Humboldt, Lake Marin and Sonoma, PG&E said.

PG&E has estimated that some 800,000 customers would have their power unplugged during the outage.

The utility said a third round of outages is still being considered, but says it will not impact as many customers as originally anticipated.

“Due to changing weather forecasts, PG&E now expects this event to impact approximately 4,000 customers. Earlier forecasts predicted impacts to 43,000 customers,” the utility said in a statement.

In the Moraga fire, an evacuation order was temporarily in effect for the Sanders Ranch section of the town of some 18,000 residents in Contra Costa County.

As member station KQED reports 140 structures were threatened:

“The fire burned 40 acres and is 80 percent contained, according to Cal Fire. Evacuations ordered for the Sanders Ranch neighborhood overnight were lifted later in the morning. The cause of the fire has not been determined.”

Steve Hill, public information officer for Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, tells NPR that about 50 firefighters remained on the scene late Thursday morning local time, to ensure the fire posed no longer posed a threat.

“We want to make sure there are no embers, nothing that could restart that fire,” Hill said.

It is still unclear how long some residents might have to live without power. PG&E said in a statement that once the weather eases and it is safe to venture out, “crews will begin patrolling power lines, repairing damaged equipment and restoring customers.”

It warns that customers could be without power for “longer than 48 hours” and suggests customers prepare themselves for an outage that “could last several days.”

In California’s wildfire season, the threat of fierce wind gusts and arid weather increases the chances of trees being toppled and falling into power lines — or of those lines being blown into dry vegetation and sparking a fire.

PG&E’s preemptive power cut follows 2018’s deadly Camp Fire in Butte County, a blaze that burned 14,000 properties and killed 86 people. A similar wildfire in California’s wine country in 2017 killed 22 people and destroyed more than 36,000 acres. However in January, California fire investigators found a private electrical system, not PG&E, was responsible for the wine region blaze.

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