More sweeping power outages could affect 605,000 customers
LOS ANGELES — Californians are bracing for major power outages throughout the state as utilities consider sweeping blackouts amid returning high winds.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced Monday it could shut off power to 605,000 customers Tuesday and today in its latest bid to reduce the wildfire risk.
The blackout would cover more than two dozen Northern California counties and comes just days after a much larger power shut-off that covered nearly 1 million customers over the weekend. That outage is believed to have affected more than 2 million residents in the Bay Area and other northern regions.
To the south, a forecast of more Santa Ana winds prompted
Southern California Edison to say it could shut off power to more than 350,000 customers.
The blackouts are a new and controversial tactic designed to prevent wind-driven brush fires caused by downed utility lines. Officials think the tactic is effective. But two major fires this month — the Kincade in Sonoma County and the Saddleridge in L.A. — might have been caused by downed power lines.
With the big Kincade fire spreading, Santa Rosa residents were forced to evacuate in darkness early Sunday amid PG&E power outages, using flashlights and cellphones as light sources.
Elsewhere, businesses have had to close and plans have been canceled. Food spoiled in refrigerators.
PG&E on Monday revealed it had failed to notify about 23,000 of its customers of precautionary power shutdowns earlier this month and also disclosed that its equipment malfunctioned near two fires that broke out in Contra Costa County on Sunday afternoon.
The utility identified the incidents in filings to the California Public Utilities Commission the same day the CPUC announced it will investigate how PG&E and other utilities handled shut-offs this year amid competing demands. Critics want PG&E to stop causing more wildfires, but the utility also has come under fire for causing massive power blackouts, often without adequate notice to the public and vulnerable populations.
The utility de-energized lines to 729,000 of its customers between Oct. 9 and 12, but notifications were not sent to about 23,000 customers, including 500 with medical conditions, PG&E stated in a CPUC filing.
Those not notified did not have contact information on file with the company or were overlooked because of the shifting grid patterns that the utility was establishing, among other reasons, according to PG&E officials who declined to comment beyond what was stated in the report.
The company said it tries to reach customers who require power for medical equipment — who are known as medical baseline customers — through any means necessary, including phone calls, text messages, emails or knocks on the door.
“Of the 30,026 medical baseline customers impacted, PG&E verified 29,144 received notice prior to de-energization,” the report stated. “A total of 28,138 confirmed receipt of a notification, which included 5,080 door knocks.”