Power back on for nearly all PG&E customers after historic planned outage
As the power came back on for nearly all 738,000 PG&E customers in Northern and Central California who lived without electricity for several days, customers affected by the unprecedented shut-off expressed frustration and worried Friday about the potential for similar blackouts.
“I’m glad to have my personal comfort back, but we really need a better plan to protect our neighbors and citizens here,” Priscilla Sporl said. The Oakmont resident said she spent the shut-off worrying that her partner, who has Parkinson’s disease, would fall and injure himself in the dark.
About 99% of the 66,000 Sonoma County customers affected by the shut-off that was designed to minimize the risk of wildfires caused by electrical equipment had power as of Friday evening, PG&E said. Power was restored for all customers within Santa Rosa, the city’s Fire Department said. The shut-off began in Sonoma County early Wednesday and extended to about three dozen other counties statewide that rely on PG&E for power.
The utility defended the preemptive tactic by saying that it could help avoid large-scale wildfires seen across the state in recent years, and executives stood by that Friday evening during a news conference. Vice President of the Community Wildfire Safety Program Sumeet Singh said that PG&E crews found nearly 30 instances of damage along power lines, including downed power lines and vegetation caught in power lines. Much of the damage, CEO Bill Johnson said, could have easily sparked a fire if the lines had been energized.
“It was an extremely difficult decision for us to make. We know it would and did cause hardship for many of the people we’re privileged to serve,” Johnson said. “But given the choice we faced — the choice between hardship and safety — we chose safety, and safety will always be our first choice.”
The local restoration process began Thursday, after the critical fire-prone weather had passed. Since then, 17 of the 35 counties impacted by the power shut-off had power completely restored as of Friday night. PG&E dispatched a group of 6,300 workers and 44 helicopters to check power lines and fix broken equipment during daylight hours.
“No one, including me, is going to rest easy until the last customer is restored,” Johnson said at the news conference. “We have an army of personnel working on this.”
While most Sonoma County residents had power Friday, others watched as they were left in the dark about when their own power would return.
At DaVero Farms & Winery west of Healdsburg, founder and co-owner Ridgely Evers waited anxiously for the building’s power to turn back on Friday afternoon. He had received no calls or texts from the utility about when electricity might return at the winery, though the sighting of a PG&E helicopter nearby earlier in the day gave him hope, he said.
Customers who live in rural areas that are hard to access or near a line damaged during the windy conditions may have to wait longer for restoration of electricity, said PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras. Hospitals, headquarters for police and fire officials and densely populated neighborhoods are given first priority.
But critics, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, faulted the utility’s antiquated equipment for the shutdown, adding that PG&E was ill-prepared to initiate the power shut-off. Many Sonoma County residents who lost power agreed, expressing frustration with the lack of communication about when their power would be restored.