PG&E pledges to release clearer outage plan as Sonoma County puts forward blurred map

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Preparing To Be Powerless

Make sure PG&E has your current contact information by going online to www.pge.com or calling 1-800-743-5000.

Get emergency alerts: Go to SoCoAlert.com or call 866-939-0911, press “0” at the menu and ask the operator for assistance in registering.

Learn how to prepare for power outages by going to www.ready.gov/power-outages.

PG&E officials say they will provide a clearer picture of how planned power cuts to prevent wildfires could affect Sonoma County, but local residents will have to wait a few more weeks for a new website illustrating possible outages across its service area.

PG&E has developed a map to chart the potential local fallout of its effort to curb fire risk connected with its equipment by shutting down parts of its grid, including large transmission lines that carry voltage across California.

The map, which PG&E provided to local government officials at a recent closed-door meeting and through a secure data portal, offers a comprehensive overview of PG&E’s electricity network with an eye on high fire-risk areas, according to officials who have seen it. The most at-risk areas in Sonoma County include the Sonoma and Mayacamas mountain ranges as well as the forested hills of west county, according to the California Public Utilities’ Commission’s fire-threat maps.

But PG&E has pressed local officials to withhold the maps from the public, arguing that they lack necessary context and could mislead viewers on the extent to which their area might be affected.

Instead, Sonoma County, acceding to the utility’s request, has published an intentionally blurred version of the map that gives the public negligible insight into the matter.

“PG&E is working on making maps of our entire service area available to the public, not just the North Bay,” spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said Friday in an email. The company is planning to release maps in the next few weeks illustrating potential impacts to its service area in Northern and Central California, home to about 16 million people, PG&E officials said.

Sonoma County agreed to PG&E’s request to withhold publication of the actual outage map for two reasons, said Chris Godley, the county’s emergency management director.

“One, PG&E has asked us to not share this map publicly because it is not truly indicative of where the power might go out; it really is dependent on weather conditions,” Godley told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “And, to be quite honest, it’s also fuzzy because we really don’t know who’s going to be impacted.”

PG&E’s worst-case models indicate that hundreds of thousands of residents across Sonoma County could be forced to endure multi-day outages. Godley noted Tuesday that PG&E’s planned outages could affect more than 400,000 county residents and 20,000 businesses.

However, it would take a rare concurrence of high winds on a hot, dry day affecting all of Sonoma County for hours on end for every circuit on the map to be affected, Santa Rosa officials said Tuesday after a City Council briefing on the same topic. Neil Bregman, the city’s emergency preparedness coordinator, said that in a severe but manageable scenario, about 50,000 Santa Rosa residents and 210,000 county residents could lose power for up to a week.

PG&E’s public-facing website on the preemptive outages will include context so people don’t take a look at the map and think all of Sonoma County would be in the dark at once, spokesman Jeff Smith said.

“It would be extraordinarily unlikely for all the circuits that you see on the map to be out of service at the same time,” he said, pointing to a Northern California outage in June, which affected less than 1% of PG&E’s customers. “Typically, it’s going to be granular like that.”

PG&E developed its current planned outage program after a devastating string of deadly wildfires in 2017 and 2018, many of which were traced back the investor-owned utility’s infrastructure. One of the first planned shut-offs last October blacked out Calistoga and 17,500 customers in Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties. This June, PG&E cut power to about 22,000 customers in the North Bay and the Sierra Nevada foothills.

This year, while wading through high-stakes bankruptcy proceedings, PG&E’s plans expanded to include powering down not only the lines connecting the grid to homes and businesses, but the larger transmission lines that deliver electricity across California.

Utility officials said this fire season they will weigh the risk of live wires running through high-risk areas during hot, dry and windy conditions against the negative effects of cutting power indefinitely when deciding whether to shut down electric service.

PG&E has said it aims to provide at least 48 hours of notice to customers before turning off the lights.

Outages could last anywhere from several hours to a week or more, depending on the weather conditions. PG&E does not plan to reenergize lines until the high-risk weather subsides and crews can inspect the affected infrastructure.

More information is available at pge.com/pspsupdates.

Preparing To Be Powerless

Make sure PG&E has your current contact information by going online to www.pge.com or calling 1-800-743-5000.

Get emergency alerts: Go to SoCoAlert.com or call 866-939-0911, press “0” at the menu and ask the operator for assistance in registering.

Learn how to prepare for power outages by going to www.ready.gov/power-outages.

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