PG&E starts turning the lights back on for Sonoma County customers who were in the dark
At least 100 PG&E workers Thursday afternoon have fanned out across Sonoma County to inspect power lines and begin restoring electricity to about 66,000 customers.
At 4 p.m., certain customers in Santa Rosa already have the lights back on.
Sonoma County and its immediate neighbors are among 23 California counties PG&E cleared by Thursday afternoon for inspections to begin as the first step toward ending an unprecedented blackout launched early Wednesday morning as a preemptive effort amid forecast high winds and heightened fire danger.
It was unclear how many customers might have power restored by Thursday night, but Sonoma County Emergency Management Director Christopher Godley said reports were coming in of some neighborhoods already completed.
“We’re optimistic they can make significant progress this afternoon,” Godley said of PG&E. “They’ve been well organized and prepared to execute, so I’m hopeful they can knock it out.”
PG&E spokeswoman Megan McFarland said she could not estimate when all of the power would be back on for all users affected by the planned shutdown.
She said an army of 6,300 linemen had to visually inspect every mile of line, utilizing helicopters in some cases, but would isolate damaged areas so they could restore power elsewhere while repairs were made.
In all, more than 700,000 customers around Northern California were affected by the shutdown, though about 126,000 had power restored by Wednesday morning.
PG&E said there were reports of damaged equipment near Mount St. Helena, where the region’s most powerful winds passed through overnight Wednesday and Thursday morning, with gusts recorded as high as 77 mph around 4 a.m., National Weather Service meteorologist Spencer Tangen said.
Other high elevation areas between 1,000 and 3,000 feet saw gusts ranging from 30 mph to 50 mph, while the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport saw peak gusts of 32 mph, though those strong winds were more sporadic, Tangen said.
“Not all valley locations saw gusts up to 30 (mph), so it was kind of hit or miss as to which gusts made it down to the valley floor,” he said.
More than 49,000 students stayed home from Sonoma County schools and colleges Thursday, a consequence of the historic power shut-off initiated by California’s largest power utility on Wednesday, school officials said.
Classes were canceled for the 9,200 students who attend Sonoma State University, where instruction won’t begin again until Monday, university spokesman Paul Gullixson said. About 2,000 of the 3,000 students who live on the Rohnert Park campus sought housing elsewhere during the outage, he said.
Santa Rosa Junior College was shut down for a second straight day and officials were still deciding whether to remain closed Friday and early next week, said spokeswoman Erin Bricker. Almost 26,000 students are enrolled at the college.
Of Sonoma County’s 40 public school districts, 14 did not hold classes Thursday, said Jamie Hansen, a Sonoma County Office of Education spokeswoman. The move impacted an estimated 17,000 students, she said.
Only Sonoma Valley Unified School District confirmed it would remain closed for the rest of the week as of Thursday afternoon, Hansen said.
PG&E has started to give crews across California the green light to fan out and restore service — but Sonoma County and the rest of the North Bay does not appear to be included.