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Survey: Early October PG&E outage resulted in $50 million to $70 million in losses for Sonoma County

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Sonoma County suffered $50 million to $70 million in economic losses during the Oct. 9 PG&E power shut-off, according to a survey from the county’s Economic Development Board.

The report, prepared with the assistance of Moody’s Analytics, was calculated using the reported number of residents without power for up to three days along with local industry assumptions of losses. It does not include the impact of lost wages by employees who could not work during the blackout and went unpaid.

The agency is conducting another broader survey on the effects of the Kincade fire and evacuation, including its impact on the wine industry.

Nearly two-thirds of the 562 businesses that responded to the survey lost power in the shut-off, the second of six by PG&E in the last two months. Of those, 39% continued to operate their businesses during the blackout, whether using generators or working in the dark with flashlights and cash transactions.

The businesses surveyed were representative of key sectors of the local economy. About 30% were in financial and professional services, 15% in retail and wholesale trades, and about 10% in the food services industry, along with others.

Many said they would try to prepare future shut-offs rather than blame PG&E for failing to properly maintain its power lines, said Lauren Cartwright, spokeswoman for the development board.

“There were a lot of comments in the positive about trying to get more of a warning next time and a better game plan on how to adapt,” Cartwright said. “They want to lessen the extent of the impact.”

It is an approach implemented by Redwood Credit Union, whose Santa Rosa headquarters was unscathed in 2017, though it was located near the path of the Tubbs fire. The Cleveland Avenue facility also was included in the evacuation zone during the Kincade fire.

“We didn’t have power or phone lines for a couple weeks (in 2017) but we had a backup generator. Our disaster plan worked perfectly,” Brett Martinez, president and chief executive officer of Redwood Credit Union, said in an interview this summer.

Such experiences have forced the financial institution to refine its disaster plans, influencing its decision to purchase property near the Napa airport with a 106,000-square-foot facility for up to 600 employees. “From the 2017 fires we have had disaster recovery thoughts in our head,” he added.

During the Kincade fire, Redwood employees were allowed to work from home or at any of its open branches that were not in an evacuation zone, Martinez said. It also made contingency plans to have its automated teller machines working as well for its customers. “In a disaster, the first thing when you are evacuated is that you need access to cash and your credit, and debit card needs to work,” he said.

The survey also revealed other concerns among business leaders in the region as a result of the power outage. They included visitors canceling reservations throughout the PG&E shut-off; employees unable to come into work because schools were closed and they had to supervise their children; and the negative business reputation in the county as a result of media coverage of the potential for fire risk.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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