SAN FRANCISCO — Less than two weeks after California’s largest utility shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to help prevent a wildfire, it says it may leave parts of the state in the dark again.
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) said Sunday it was monitoring extreme weather conditions forecast for later this week, saying it was considering cutting electricity across parts of 15 counties in northern and central California.
About 209,000 customers were notified they may be affected, the utility said Monday night.
The reason for this week’s potential shutoff is high fire threats caused by windy conditions combined with dry grasses and large numbers of dead and dying trees, PG&E said,
“We know that sustained winds above 45 mph are known to cause damage to the lower-voltage distribution system and winds above 50 mph are known to cause damage to higher-voltage transmission equipment,” said Michael Lewis, senior vice president of PG&E’s electric operations.
“As we saw in the last (public safety power shutoff) event, we had more than 100 instances of serious damage and hazard on our distribution and transmission lines from wind gusts of this strength,” Lewis said.
PG&E has come under fire for the role its equipment played in a series of catastrophic fires across the state.
In February, the company warned it could proactively cut power more often and to more customers during risky weather conditions as a means of preventing wildfires caused by high winds downing live power equipment.
The potential shutoff, the utility giant said earlier this week, would be “significantly smaller” than the one that impacted hundreds of thousands from October 9 through October 12.
Earlier this month, almost 800,000 customers had their power turned off after the company reported high winds across the northern part of the state which “historically are the events that cause the most destructive wildfires in California history,” PG&E meteorologist Scott Strenfel had said.
The preventive power outages may continue for a decade, the utility’s chief executive said in a statement last week.
“I didn’t mean to say we’d be doing it on this scale for 10 years. I think they’ll decrease in size and scope every year,” Bill Johnson said in a statement.
PG&E’s role in catastrophic fires
The company has previously said it’s “probable” that its equipment started the 2018 Camp Fire — California’s deadliest and most destructive blaze — when a power line touched nearby trees.
An investigation by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection found the company responsible for the fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed thousands of structures.
The utility has agreed to pay billions of dollars in damages.
Critics of the company’s proactive public shutoffs say the plan lets PG&E get away with inconveniencing its customers and costing businesses instead of upgrading its infrastructure to prevent fires.
“They didn’t do what they were supposed to do and keep up with the lines and the power,” said Blair Roman, a PG&E customer who was out of power in Mill Valley earlier this month. “Their answer to everything is to just shut it off so we can’t get blamed for it. It’s a major inconvenience, it’s going to cost companies billions of dollars. And it all could have been avoided.”