PG&E Moves Ahead with Outage, Shutting Power to 178,000 Customers

PG&E’s chief meteorologist said this weekend could bring the strongest winds of the fire season, perhaps even stronger than two weeks ago, when PG&E cut off nearly 750,000 customers in Northern and Central California.

by Guy Kovner, Randi Rossmann and Chantelle Lee, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif. / October 24, 2019

(TNS) — With a pervasive sense of deja vu, thousands of Sonoma County residents hunkered down Wednesday as PG&E launched a widespread power shut-off for the second time in two weeks, with the prospect of even heavier winds and a third outage over the weekend.

In Sonoma County, PG&E’s preemptive blackout affected nearly 27,000 customers starting about 2:30 p.m. a half-hour ahead of the announced time because of the earlier-than-expected arrival of ominous weather.

The outage covered about 178,000 customers in 15 counties in the North Bay and Sierra foothills. Shut-offs planned for San Mateo and Kern counties early Thursday will affect about 1,000 more customers.

The utility expects to start restoring electricity Thursday afternoon in some areas, but it could take 48 hours to complete the work, PG&E officials said.

“We’re hopeful that because it’s a smaller event … that restoration will go fairly quickly,” said Chris Godley, the county’s emergency services director. “But we have to see how the winds behave.”

Two Southern California utilities said they, too, may cut off electricity in the face of dry, windy weather that elevates the risk of destructive wildfires.

Scott Strenfel, PG&E’s chief meteorologist, said this weekend could bring the strongest winds of the fire season, potentially even stronger than two weeks ago, when PG&E pulled the plug on nearly 750,000 customers in Northern and Central California, including 66,000 in Sonoma County.

Some residents and businesses said they were ready for it this time, while others faced hardships.

“We’re better at it this time,” said Eric Meuse, general manager of Oliver’s Markets, who was helping the Montecito Boulevard store get by on a generator that powered cash registers and backup lighting.

All the frozen and perishable food was pulled off the shelves and placed in refrigerated trailers provided by vendors, he said. That left water, dry goods and canned food for customers, along with “some alcohol to help people to get through it,” Meuse said.

The produce department featured “mood lighting,” he said, with just a string of bare bulbs hung from the low ceiling.

“It’s nice,” said Carrie Gonzalez, a regular customer. “As quiet and mellow as I’ve ever seen it.”

Her Rincon Valley home has a generator that powers two refrigerators, with solar yard lights brought inside to create a “disco look,” she said.

Her daughter, Carmela, 7, “thinks we’re camping at home,” Gonzalez said, and is doubly happy to be free from school Thursday.

But Debbie Settle, a retiree who bought several bags of groceries, faces a dilemma if the power doesn’t return soon. A diabetic, Settle has enough refrigerated insulin to get through Thursday, but without a fresh supply Friday “my blood sugar will go way up” and possibly send her to the hospital, she said.

Settle’s condo has no lights, but she will stay warm at night thanks to a miniature German schnauzer named Zoe who sleeps on her chest.

The wind better hit 45 to 50 mph, she said, “or it’s all for nothing.”

Winds over Mount St. Helena were measured Wednesday night at 55 mph with gusts up to 69 mph and were expected to remain strong through sunrise, then ease Thursday.

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©2019 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

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