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Weather conditions may prompt PG&E to shut off power in parts of North Bay

With forecasts predicting hot, dry and windy weather early next week, PG&E advised Friday there is an increased possibility it may shut off power in parts of the North Bay to reduce wildfire risk.

PG&E raised the risk of a shutdown to “elevated” for three regions in Northern California - which includes Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake and Napa counties - for Monday and Tuesday. That risk status is the lowest threshold level at which power shut-offs are possible, and does not necessarily mean that PG&E will turn off power in those areas.

PG&E launched the public safety power shut-off program in 2018 but significantly increased the program this year to potentially disrupt 31,000 miles of power lines in high-threat areas. In some cases, blackouts could last more than 48 hours.

The “elevated” risk status is the second-lowest level on PG&E’s four-level scale of public safety power shut-off potential, the lowest being “not expected.” The third level is “watch,” meaning that there is a reasonable chance of an outage, and the final level is “warning,” meaning that a shut-off is probable but not guaranteed. PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said PG&E launched the level system in August to inform customers about the potential weather conditions that could necessitate an outage.

The current status is always posted online at PGE.com/weather.

PG&E raised the risk level for the North Bay because of the hot, dry and windy weather expected early next week, Contreras said. Those conditions significantly increase fire danger. Temperatures in Sonoma County are expected to reach as high as the upper 90s Tuesday, causing an increased risk for wildfires through the weekend, although no red flag warnings or fire advisories have been issued for Sonoma County, said Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean.

Contreras said PG&E will monitor the weather over the weekend, and if the adverse conditions continue, PG&E may raise the shut-off risk to the next level. At this time, PG&E has not contacted customers about the elevated outage risk, Contreras said.

“If it looks like there’s a public safety risk in one zone ... and we’re about 48 hours away from the weather event, we’ll start contacting customers,” Contreras said.

“It’s only at elevated right now. When we get to PSPS warning, that’s when the level indicates that an execution of a PSPS is probable and even that level doesn’t guarantee a PSPS,” she said, using an acronym for public safety power shut-off.

So far, PG&E has initiated two shutdowns this year, both on June 8. The utility shut off power to about 1,700 customers in Napa, Solano and Yolo counties about 6:15 a.m., before restoring power at 6 p.m. About 21,000 customers in Butte and Yuba counties lost power about 9 p.m., and regained power by 6 p.m. the following day.

If PG&E raises the level to “watch” for the North Bay, then it would activate local emergency centers in the affected areas. Crews would be on standby to restore power safely and as quickly as possible when the adverse weather conditions pass, Contreras said.

“As always, weather conditions can change quickly,” Contreras said in an email. “We remind our customers to have a plan and make sure we have your updated contact information.”

You can reach Staff Writer Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ChantelleHLee.

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