PG&E Cutting Power Due to Wildfire Threat

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) said it could cut off power for nearly one million people across Northern California beginning Oct. 25, due to significant wildfire danger in its territory.

Southern California Edison (SCE) also has warned of potential blackouts in its region due to forecasts of high winds. The utility last week was found at fault for a fire in Ventura County in October 2019.

PG&E in a statement Friday said, “Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) Emergency Operations Center, Meteorology team and Wildfire Safety Operations Center are working together and tracking a significant, offshore wind event starting Sunday that is forecast to have the driest humidity levels and the strongest winds of the wildfire season thus far.”

Forecasters say winds of up to 70 mph at higher elevations and 50 mph at lower elevations are expected across the Bay Area on Sunday night and early Monday.

Shutoffs in Stages

The utility said it would shut off power in stages beginning Sunday morning. It said most of the shutoffs would occur between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday. Power would then likely be restored in stages beginning later on Monday and continuing into Tuesday.

The blackouts, known as public safety power shutoffs (PSPS), would be the largest by San Francisco-based PG&E so far this year. The utility said Saturday about 386,000 customers in 38 counties could be impacted.

PG&E on Oct. 21 initiated a PSPS that impacted about 32,000 customers in nine Northern California counties. Power was restored to nearly all affected customers by Friday afternoon.

“High fire-risk conditions are expected to arrive Sunday morning. High winds are currently expected to subside Tuesday morning (Oct. 27). PG&E will then patrol the de-energized lines to ensure they were not damaged during the wind event,” the utility said in the statement. “PG&E will safely restore power as quickly as possible, with the goal of restoring most customers within 12 daylight hours, based on current weather conditions.”

Reduce Wildfire Threat

PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoff program is designed to reduce the threat of wildfire that could be sparked by lines brought down in gusting winds. It was begun after the utility was found liable for causing a series of deadly wildfires in California over the past few years.

A series of wildfires in California in 2017 and 2018 caused billions of dollars in damage. PG&E equipment was implicated as the cause of several fires, and the damage claims led the utility to file for bankruptcy. Source: POWER archives

“The highest probability areas for this PSPS include terrain of the northern and western Sacramento Valley, Northern and Central Sierra as well as higher terrain of the Bay Area, including the Santa Cruz Mountains, Central Coast Region and portions of southern Kern,” PG&E said.

The counties that could be impacted by the power shutoffs include: Alameda, Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Humboldt, Kern, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tehama, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba, according to the utility.

PG&E has a tool customers can use to determine whether their address will be impacted by the shutoffs.

“The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our most important responsibility. PG&E’s 24/7 Wildfire Safety Operations Center and our team of in-house meteorologists continue to monitor weather conditions for this potential Diablo offshore wind event arriving Sunday morning and lasting through Tuesday morning,” said Michael Lewis, PG&E’s interim president. “Initial forecasts indicate this could be our largest PSPS event this year so far. Our highest priority is to keep customers and communities safe and execute this event according to our plan and to then quickly restore power to all affected customers when it’s safe to do so.”

Equipment Blamed for SoCal Fires

Officials in Southern California on Oct. 22 said electrical equipment failures were to blame for two fires in Ventura County in October 2019. Authorities said SCE was to blame for the Easy fire in Simi Valley. The Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) said the California Resources Production Corp. (CRPC) was at fault in the Maria fire.

VCFD said the Easy Fire was caused by an electrical transmission line failure on equipment owned by SCE. It was sparked when “an insulator attached to high-voltage power lines swung into a steel power pole,” VCFD said in a news release.

The Maria Fire near Santa Paula was caused by the failure of electrical distribution line on equipment owned by CRPC, an oil and natural gas producer that filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. Officials said the fire was sparked when “an electrical conductor separated and contacted a metal pipe on the ground, igniting the fire.”

A CRPC spokesperson, though, in a statement said the Maria Fire started on CRPC electric equipment “when Southern California Edison (SCE) reenergized its power distribution to our field after a power safety shutoff without giving us adequate notice and opportunity to inspect our equipment.” CRPC has filed a lawsuit against SCE in Ventura County over the fire.

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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