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What’s Next: Will PG&E Blackouts Happen Again in California?

During and after the shutdown, residents across large swaths of the Bay Area and beyond lashed out against the utility for what many saw as an immense and frightening over-reaction. Will there be future shutdowns?

(TNS) — The inventory of woes from last week’s PG&E’s power shutdown across Northern and Central California continues to come in:

Students at UC Berkeley worrying that the intentional outage may have resulted in the loss of two years of research into fighting drug-resistant forms of cancer. Businesses that lost income from the cutoff even as PG&E’s website crash sowed widespread confusion and chaos. Reports of vehicle collisions at intersections where the power to traffic lights had been cut. And scores of elderly people and others whose lives are dependent on electricity living through desperate hours of wondering how they’d manage to get by until power was restored.

The unprecedented shutdown — which PG&E conducted in an effort to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires during last week’s high winds and dry conditions — meant the loss of power to hundreds of thousands of residents and an economic hit to the region that, according to some estimates, ran into billions of dollars.

During the shutdown and in its aftermath, residents across large swaths of the Bay Area and beyond lashed out against the utility for what many saw as an over-reaction of immense and even frightening proportion. Here’s some of the fallout from last week’s drama, and a look forward to what’s next for PG&E and your power.

Will there be more shutdowns?

No future shutdowns are scheduled, at least for now. But it all depends on the weather.

Asked about plans the utility has to order more so-called PSPSs, or “Public Safety Power Shutoffs,” PG&E spokesperson Jeff Smith told this news organization Monday morning that “it’s all dependent on weather conditions,” but that the company currently has no plans to issue another shutoff order.

Still, at least in the short-term, Smith stressed that these major shutdowns “remain the most effective way for us to reduce the likelihood of wildfires and the best way for us to keep our communities and our customers safe.”

He added that PG&E will continue its efforts to ”harden the system,” such as “looking at ways to improve how we remove vegetation” around the utility’s power lines and substations. He said those efforts could eventually “reduce the frequency of PSPSs when we see extreme weather events like we saw last week.”

What’s the fallout for PG&E?

Most noticeably, the utility has taken a beating in the court of public opinion ever since last week’s shutdowns got underway. Anger and frustration from residents and business owners was widespread and vocal, while some politicians jumped on PG&E for causing unnecessary angst for millions of Californians impacted by the outages. As the shutdown threw scores of communities into the dark, literally and figuratively, Gov. Gavin Newsom blasted the giant, bankrupt power company, calling it greedy and accusing it of “mismanagement.”

This is “not a climate change story as much as a story about greed and mismanagement over the course of decades,” the governor said in a press conference at the height of the shutdown chaos. “Neglect. A desire to advance not public safety, but profits.” Late last week, as the lights started to come back on, Newsom added that ”what has occurred in the last 48 hours is unacceptable.”

Referring to estimates that as many as 2 million people had been left without power at the peak of the shutdown, the governor added that “we are seeing the scale and scope of something that no state in the 21st century should experience.”

What else?

The fallout continued this week, with PG&E stock taking a hit during trading. Continuing a precipitous drop that began Thursday, PG&E shares were down 3.3 percent late Monday morning.

Democratic Sen. Mike McGuire, who’s district includes parts of Lake County, told the LA Times that the utility, as well as the state and its regulators, should do more to protect its customers. “We need to rethink everything about this shutdown and how to take care of the most vulnerable in our communities,” McGuire said. “These shutdowns can be life and death.”

McGuire told the paper that he believes California should insist that PG&E open its own office of emergency services and “dedicate a budget to providing emergency services; and create a reliable list of vulnerable Californians who may need aid in a blackout.”

How’s the weather?

Less threatening than it was a week ago. The National Weather Service says the Bay Area weather today should be mostly cloudy in the morning, and then turning partly cloudy later in the day. Highs will be in the 60s to lower 70s while winds should be relatively mild. Tuesday will see more of the same.

How should we stay updated on possible outages?

You can go to the outages page on PG&E’s website, which, after failing last week is now back up and running. Most of the outages currently being reported, though, only affect a handful of people and do not appear to be so-called PSPSs.

UPDATE: Gov. Newsom demands PG&E provide rebates for residential and business customers affected by preemptive power shutdowns


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