SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Pacific Gas and Electric Company is alerting some 70,000 customers in nine Northern California counties about possible early Thursday morning power outages on amid a red flag warning for the region.
PG&E said Wednesday it could initiate a Public Safety Power Shutoff because of strong winds, low humidity levels, critically dry vegetation and on-the-ground observations.
“We are trying to send our customers as much notification as possible,” said PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Santana. “We’re sending out emails, automated calls and texts last night, giving 24 hours notice of the extreme weather that’s coming through the area.”
The utility said the following communities may lose power:
Butte County (including Berry Creek, Chico, Forest Ranch, Magalia, Oroville, Paradise)
Lake County (including Clearlake Oaks, Cobb, Hidden Valley Lake, Kelseyville, Middletown)
Napa County (including Angwin, Pope Valley, St. Helena)
Nevada County (including Grass Valley, Nevada City, North San Juan)
Placer County (including Colfax, Foresthill, Alta)
Plumas County (including La Porte)
Sierra County (including Downieville, Sierra City)
Sonoma County (only portions of unincorporated northeast Sonoma County)
Yuba County (including Brownsville, Dobbins, Camptonville)
Last month, PG&E shut off power in parts of six counties during similar high fire danger conditions, affecting nearly 42,000 customers.
Once the power is cut to some 3,100 miles of lines, it all has to be checked out before it can be turned back on – which takes time. The utility was criticized last month after some areas experienced nearly 20 hours of outage, but PG&E says it’s a lot easier to turn things off then to turn them back on.
A giant generator off of Highway 29 has been installed in case PG&E once again has to cut power to Calistoga because of the latest high-wind, red-flag warning.
On the eve of the potential power shutdown, a representative from the utility giant offered a mea culpa to residents at a meeting in Calistoga.
“This is a very big deal for us as a company. And it was the first time that this happened and we know based on that experience that we need to get better at this,” said Aaron Johnson with the PG&E Community Wildfire Safety Program. “There was a lot of room for improvement.”
When the utility cut the power last month, it took three days for the lights to come back on, costing the tourist driven town.
“The last time this went down, I’ll be very honest, it was over $150,000 lost in business,” said one man attending the meeting. “What I’m hearing from PG&E basically is, ‘Tough. You just gotta do this until we figure this out.'”
Among those businesses experiencing losses was the Calistoga Roastery. Owner Clive Richardson estimates the shutdown cost him about $3,000.
“I closed my business for a full day,” said Richardson. “I paid staff for turning up and having to send them home. And we didn’t know when it was coming back on, and I threw away all my perishables.”
The company’s meteorologists will continue to monitor the weather conditions starting Wednesday night and all throughout Thursday. As additional weather reports become available, PG&E will make further decisions about which areas will lose power.
Customers can learn whether their home or business is in or near a high fire-threat area by reviewing the California Public Utilities Commission’s High Fire-Threat District map.
They can also visit pge.com/wildfiresafety to determine whether their home or business is served by an electric line that may be turned off for safety.
PG&E said they are also in the process of setting up five emergency centers in Humboldt, the North Bay, Sacramento, Sierra and North Valley that will serve as field operations offices for the utility.
Officials said there are no plans to set up shelters for customers.