Util­ity im­poses more black­outs

Move could leave mil­lions in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia without power for days

The Peterborough Examiner - - CANADA & WORLD - JANIE HAR AND DON THOMP­SON

SANTA ROSA, CALIF. — Frus­tra­tion and anger mounted across north­ern Cal­i­for­nia as the state’s big­gest util­ity be­gan an­other round of fire-preven­tion black­outs Tues­day that could leave mil­lions of peo­ple without elec­tric­ity, some for five days or longer.

The shut-offs, aimed at keeping wind­blown elec­tri­cal equip­ment from spark­ing wild­fires, came as fire crews raced to con­tain two ma­jor blazes in north­ern and south­ern Cal­i­for­nia be­fore the winds picked up again. The fires have de­stroyed dozens of homes in Sonoma County wine coun­try and in the hills of Los An­ge­les.

Pa­cific Gas & Elec­tric Corp. said its lat­est black­out would af­fect about 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple in 29 coun­ties. At the same time, about 1 mil­lion peo­ple were still without power Tues­day af­ter a shut-off over the week­end that af­fected nearly 2.7 mil­lion.

The black­out Tues­day was PG&E’s third in a week and the fourth in a month. It in­cluded the Sierra Ne­vada foothills and parts of well-to-do Marin County, pop­u­la­tion 260,000, north of San Fran­cisco. Many peo­ple in Marin have been without power since Satur­day.

Peo­ple searched for places to charge cell­phones and stocked up on ice af­ter PG&E gave warn­ing.

Pe­taluma res­i­dent Scotty Richard­son, whose lights went out Satur­day, said the prospect that power might not be re­stored for days makes him “fu­ri­ous, fu­ri­ous.”

He vented frus­tra­tion over the on-again, off-again out­ages but also anger at the util­ity’s role in caus­ing deadly fires in the past, and ap­par­ently spark­ing some of this sea­son’s blazes.

“PG&E can’t fig­ure out how to de­liver power re­li­ably without killing peo­ple,” he said. “This is more than three strikes — it’s a fail­ure of epic pro­por­tions.” Gov. Gavin New­som and top util­ity reg­u­la­tors have ac­cused the com­pany of mis­man­ag­ing its power sys­tem and fail­ing for decades to make the in­vest­ments needed to make it more durable or to plan for such out­ages.

PG&E of­fi­cials have ac­knowl­edged short­com­ings in man­ag­ing the shut-offs, in­clud­ing a crash of its web­site, and say they are learn­ing from each black­out how to be more pre­cise when they turn off the power.

But they say their top con­cern is public safety and pre­vent­ing an­other wild­fire like the one PG&E was blamed for that all but de­stroyed the town of Par­adise last year and killed 85 peo­ple.

PG&E is in bank­ruptcy be­cause of a string of dis­as­trous fires dur­ing the past three years. Its stock dropped 24% Mon­day to close at $3.80 and was down more than 50% since Thurs­day.

Many Cal­i­for­ni­ans are skep­ti­cal of PG&E’s mo­tives for the black­outs. And while the util­ity has set up cen­tres where peo­ple can go to charge phones and lap­tops and get free wa­ter, snacks, flash­lights and so­lar lanterns, some con­tend PG&E isn’t concerned enough about the in­con­ve­nience.

“It’s so ob­vi­ous it’s just to pro­tect them from more li­a­bil­ity,” Janet Luoma of Santa Rosa said at a Red Cross evac­u­a­tion shel­ter.

At the shel­ter in Santa Rosa, Chris Sher­man plugged his lap­top into a wall out­let and charged his phone while he waited for the all-clear to go home, while an­tic­i­pat­ing that once he did, he could lose power.

“They don’t seem to know what the hell they’re do­ing,” he said of PG&E. “I’m not sure that they’re re­ally pro­tect­ing any­thing.”

STU­ART W. PALLEY THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Cal­i­for­nia’s big­gest util­ity says its lat­est black­out would af­fect about 1.5 mil­lion in 29 coun­ties.

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