PG&E plans another massive power shut-off that could extend outage for North Bay customers to Wednesday
Hundreds of thousands of PG&E customers may have power restored only to see it cut again less than 24 hours later. Others will have their power shut-off stretch to nearly a week, according to a Sunday night announcement from the state’s largest energy provider.
The next planned outage, which is done to prevent the utility’s power lines from sparking wildfires during dry, windy conditions, would start between 8-9 a.m. Tuesday and run through 10 a.m. Wednesday, and would affect more than 500,000 customers statewide, including about 50,000 in Sonoma County.
The widespread shut-offs have been prompted by offshore heavy winds that have since Wednesday night fanned the flames of the Kincade fire, supercharging the blaze to more than 54,000 acres by Sunday night, with just 5% containment, according to Cal Fire.
PG&E equipment may have played a role in the start of the Kincade fire, as company officials have said they became aware of a problem on a 230-kilovolt transmission line within The Geysers just 6 minutes before firefighters were called at 9:26 p.m. Wednesday to a vegetation fire on John Kincade Road at Burned Mountain Road.
Since the company initiated its so-called public safety power shut-off program, it has executed eight such planned outages, with half coming in the past three weeks. Before the program’s existence, PG&E equipment sparked the majority of the large wildfires around the state in the fall of 2017, as well as the Camp fire that destroyed the town of Paradise in Butte County last year.
A Cal Fire investigation found that PG&E equipment did not cause the Tubbs fire, the most destructive of the 2017 North Bay wildfires. A group of wildfire survivors is challenging that finding in court.
Potential liabilities from the 2017 and 2018 fires helped force PG&E into bankruptcy.
The next shut-off will affect a little more than 500,000 customers, far fewer than the 965,000 customers impacted by the ongoing power shutdown. But the footprint in the North Bay is expected to be “nearly identical,” officials said.
During the current shutdown, 256,000 North Bay customers lost power, including 96,000 in Sonoma County.
That means some customers may see power restored Monday morning only to lose it again a day later. Others won’t have their power restored at all, PG&E officials announced during a media call Sunday night.
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents the west county, said she’s concerned about residents who already have been without power losing months’ worth of food in deep freezers if the utility isn’t able to restore power even for 24 hours.
The Sunday night announcement came in the wake of the company’s decision to shut off natural gas to more than 23,000 northern Sonoma County customers near the fire, and the shut-offs could extend to northern Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.
The Tuesday planned shut-off is based on forecasts for more strong offshore winds, although this round won’t be as strong as the winds that helped force mass evacuations of nearly 200,000 Sonoma County residents in the path of the destructive Kincade fire.
The National Weather Service warned that additional offshore winds Tuesday night and Wednesday morning would be similar to the conditions in the middle of last week, bringing winds of 15 to 30 mph with gusts up to 45 mph across the Bay Area, with even higher gusts possible in higher elevations.