Dangerous California Winds May Prompt Another PG&E Power Shutdown

Previous outages angered some customers who said the shutoffs created new hazards by preventing people from getting news about fires. There was also concern about those with health issues who rely on electric equipment.

by Hannah Fry, Los Angeles Times / October 22, 2019
In this Dec. 16, 2017, file photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, flames burn near power lines in Sycamore Canyon near West Mountain Drive in Montecito, Calif. State fire officials blamed power lines coming into contact with trees for sparking four Northern California wildfires last October that incinerated more than 130 buildings. In a statement released Friday, May 25, 2018, officials indicated three of the fires could have been prevented if Pacific Gas & Electric Co. had made more efforts to keep trees clear of its power lines. PG&E says it is reviewing those conclusions. AP

(TNS) — Thousands of Californians could be without power this week as two major utility companies consider shutting off electricity to large swaths of the state amid heightened concerns that hot weather and strong winds could lead to wildfires.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced Sunday it would consider cutting power to customers in 17 counties as early as Wednesday as potentially strong, dry offshore winds blow into the Sierra Foothills and North Bay. Portions of Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Joaquin, Solano, Sonoma, Tehama, Yolo and Yuba counties could be affected by the shutoff, according to the utility.

It is not clear how many customers would be affected by the public safety power shutoff. However, the utility said in a statement that it is "expected to be significantly smaller in terms of scope and impact" than the blackout earlier this month that left more than 2 million people statewide in the dark. At the same time, Southern California Edison also cut power to roughly 24,000 customers in a handful of counties.

Those outages angered some customers who said that the shut-offs created a whole new set of hazards by preventing people from getting news about fires. There was also concern about those with health issues who rely on electrically powered medical equipment to stay alive.

During the planned outage, PG&E's website crashed and customers had difficulty obtaining information about their service, adding to the frustration.

Public officials have sharply criticized PG&E over the outage, with Public Utility Commission President Marybel Batjer saying Friday that the utility "was not fully prepared to manage such a large-scale power shut-off." Utility executives have defended the outages, saying they are being done in an effort to protect the public from deadly wildfires sparked by their equipment.

On Sunday, Southern California Edison cut power to a handful of customers in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County including Agua Dulce and Acton, along with customers in Devils Canyon, Serrano Village and Kendall in San Bernardino County amid high temperatures and wind in the region. Power to those customers was restored early Monday, according to the utility.

More than 17,000 other Edison customers in five counties — Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, Santa Barbara and Ventura — are under consideration for power outages in coming days. The largest concentration of customers who could be affected — more than 5,000 — is in San Bernardino County.

National Weather Service forecasters predict elevated fire weather conditions for Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties through Wednesday as Santa Ana winds develop in the area and temperatures spike into the high 80s and low 90s. Peak wind gusts of 30 to 40 mph are expected in the region.

Similar conditions helped fuel the devastating Saddleridge fire that scorched nearly 8,800 acres in the hills of the northern San Fernando Valley, destroying 19 structures and damaging 88, according to most recent estimates from the Los Angeles Fire Department. SCE is facing scrutiny over possible links between the company's electrical system and the start of the fire in Sylmar.

Edison's electrical system was "impacted" around the time that investigators suspect the Saddleridge fire ignited beneath a high-voltage transmission tower, according to the utility. The cause of the fire, which is 89% contained, has not been determined.

Equipment malfunctions have been tied to some of the state's most destructive and deadliest fires, including last year's Camp fire — which devastated the town of Paradise in Northern California and killed 85 people — and the 2017 wine country blazes.

Investigators determined last year that Edison power lines ignited the 2017 Thomas fire, a massive blaze in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties that killed two people. Officials are still trying to determine whether power lines sparked November's Woolsey fire, which ripped through Ventura County and Malibu.

During an emergency meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission on Friday, PG&E Chief Executive William D. Johnson said California residents face up to a decade of widespread forced power shut-offs until the bankrupt utility giant will be able to prevent its power transmission lines from sparking fires.

Here's the list of areas that may be affected by the Southern California Edison outages:

Los Angeles County (1,762 customers): unincorporated areas including Castaic

San Bernardino County (5,751 customers): San Bernardino, Fontana, unincorporated areas of Etiwanda, Grapevine Canyon, San Sevaine Flats, Devils Canyon, Serrano Village, Kendall, University, Cajon, Arrowhead Farms, North Park and Hudson

Santa Barbara County (2,898 customers): Santa Barbara, Carpinteria, unincorporated areas including Gaviota, Jalama Beach, Montecito and Summerland

Ventura County (4,439 customers): Ventura, Moorpark, Simi Valley, Ojai and unincorporated areas of Ventura County and Santa Susana

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