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PG&E warns of potential Monday power shutoffs across 32 counties

PG&E is notifying tens of thousands of customers that it may shut off their power Monday due to potentially dry, windy conditions that could create an increased fire risk.

The utility announced Saturday that 44,000 customers in parts of 32 counties — including Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties — may lose electricity Monday. PG&E is sending these customers two-day notices. Seven tribes also may be affected.

According to PG&E, its meteorologists are monitoring a potential weather system that could bring dry, gusty offshore winds to parts of the northern, central and southern regions of the company’s service area beginning Monday morning. The potential weather system combined with extreme drought conditions and dry vegetation, could pose an increased fire risk, PG&E said.

Despite potential for weekend rain in some areas, PG&E is notifying customers of the possible outage, described by the utility as a Public Safety Power Shutoff, in case rain doesn’t materialize and forecasted wind speeds continue to pose increased wildfire risk.

The potential Monday morning shutoffs could begin in portions of the North Valley, Sacramento and San Joaquin Foothills. Potential shutoffs for the Northern Sierra Foothills, North Bay, North Coast regions, Bay Area hills and the Central Valley could begin Monday evening, depending on the timing of the wind event, the utility said.

Notifications via text, email and automated phone call began Saturday, the utility said.

Customers can also look up their address online to find out if their location is being monitored for the potential safety shutoff at pge.com/pspsupdates. The emergency shutoff website is now available in 16 languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Russian, Vietnamese, Korean, Farsi, Arabic, Hmong, Khmer, Punjabi, Japanese, Thai, Portuguese and Hindi.

Noting that conditions might change, PG&E said in a news release:

“Many counties will only have small portions of expected outages, some fewer than 100 customers.” 

Among Bay Area counties, Solano County customers are expected to see the greatest outage impact, according to PG&E. More than 4,550 customers and 420 Medical Baseline customers could be affected in just Solano County.

In Napa County, 2,207 customers and 107 Medical Baseline customers could be affected. The utility said 601 customers and 40 Medical Baseline customers could be affected in Contra Costa County, while 134 customers and 10 Medical Baseline customers could be affected in Alameda County.

The utility said 87 customers in Sonoma and one Medical Baseline customer could be affected.

PG&E activated its Emergency Operations Center on Friday to support the potential weather event.

If customers enrolled in the company’s Medical Baseline program do not verify that they have received notices, PG&E employees will conduct individual, in-person visits, the utility said.

In August of this year, PG&E faced questions and criticism about its power shutoff policies during a public briefing with the California Public Utilities Commission.

PG&E PG&E is notifying some 44,000 customers in 32 counties that power may be shut off Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 due to expected strong winds and dry conditions that increase fire risk. (Courtesy of PG&E)

The briefing was the third in a series of meetings with California electricity companies to discuss their efforts to reduce the frequency and impact of the PSPS events.

Throughout the briefing, CPUC President Marybel Batjer pressed PG&E’s senior vice president and chief risk officer Sumeet Singh on specifics of PG&E’s work to limit the number and scope of PSPS events, stressing the commission’s position that shutting off energy to customers should be an absolute last result.

She said:

“Unlike other mitigation strategies, these PSPS events have very real and very direct impacts to customers. It is trading individual risk to customers for reducing wildfire risk. At risk in a PSPS event are people’s lives and their livelihoods.”

Singh told the group that the utility is using updated guidance and new machine modeling to determine when to resort to a PSPS event. Previously, PG&E based their PSPS decision-making on the likelihood of a large fire happening due to factors like wind speed, low humidity and nearby dry fuel.

The updated modeling incorporates historical weather data and local outage trends to determine the likelihood of igniting a catastrophic fire. It also allows the utility to determine the likelihood that trees nearby will fall over and disrupt power lines, which can also cause fire.

In April, a federal judge overseeing PG&E’s criminal probation recommended the utility do exactly that — to take into account what PG&E now calls their “tree overstrike criteria” when deciding whether to schedule a PSPS event. According to Singh, the new criteria would have reduced the number of PSPS events occurring between 2017 and 2019, though the number of events in 2020 would have remained the same.

The utility was placed on probation in 2016 after a federal court found that PG&E neglected to keep accurate and complete records, or address potential threats in its natural gas pipelines leading up to a 2010 fatal gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

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