SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Pacific Gas & Electric has determined that fire weather conditions had not deteriorated to a point Monday when they would need to shut off power in Napa, Lake and Sonoma counties as a wildfire precaution.
The utility tweeted at 12 p.m. — “We are NOT projecting a Monday 9/23 evening Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) event for Lake, Napa, and Sonoma counties in the North Bay. PG&E will continue to closely monitor the weather for Monday night and again for Tuesday’s 9/24 potential PSPS event.”
A short time before the PG&E announcement, Sonoma County officials Monday declared a state of emergency in anticipation of a possible shut down.
PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff: Map of potential shutoff areas
“Our staff has been diligently planning to adequately respond to the effects of this event,” Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair David Rabbitt said. “However, we want to remind our residents that the decision to turn off the power and the speed at which it is restored is planned and managed solely by PG&E.”
Monday #PSPS event update: We are NOT projecting a Monday 9/23 evening PSPS event for Lake, Napa, and Sonoma counties in the North Bay. PG&E will continue to closely monitor the weather for Monday night and again for Tuesday’s 9/24 potential PSPS event: https://t.co/oJleGnvcT2 pic.twitter.com/FVEA4Ikamq
— PG&E (@PGE4Me) September 23, 2019
The utility did shut off power to about 21,000 customers in three counties — portions of Butte, Nevada and Yuba counties in the Sierra foothills.
PG&E put the PSPS plan in place in the wake of several devastating blazes in the past two years that were started by Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. power lines.
Strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures were forecast in the region through Wednesday, and authorities issued an extreme fire danger warning for some areas.
Wind gusts could reach 50 mph (80 kmph) in the northern Sierra and foothills, and between 30 to 40 mph (48 to 64 kph) in the Sacramento Valley and near the Pacific coast, the National Weather Service said.
The anticipated power shutoffs have boosted generator sales at North Bay hardware stores.
“First thing in the morning,” said Sean Stuckley of Larkfield True Value. “Everywhere from private residences to people down at the airport, businesses around. Everybody’s concerned. Nobody knows what’s going to happen with these blackouts.”
Once an occasional sale at the Larkfield True Value, generators are getting another round of attention with the latest round of power shutoffs.
“A few months ago when PG&E first announced the role there was definitely a spurt of interest, but not a lot of sales,” Stuckley said. Now he keeps a stack on hand for buyers.
Flashlights and batteries were in high demand at Cole Hardware in Bennett Valley on Monday. Nobody is in the dark yet, but folks in the North Bay fire zone are resigned to the possibility that a proactive power outage could happen soon.
“Most people around here understand, especially since around here we saw the unfortunate aftermath of the October fires and last year’s as well,” said Stephen Chase of Ace Hardware. “So they’re okay with it. It’s a little inconvenient, but it’s worth it.”
“It’s better to lose a little bit of food and be inconvenienced, rather than have your house burned down,” said John Gouhring of Santa Rosa. “Hopefully, PG&E will get it together and find out better ways to keep the lines safe, whether that’s underground or whatever the solution is, so there won’t be the necessity of shutting it down.”
In other parts of the North Bay, people were making preparations that might normally come with an approaching winter storm.
“Whenever the power goes out, come out here, turn it on, and it keeps the ice cream frozen,” said Alec Coffman of Speer’s Market in Forestville. He was testing out the market’s old diesel generator ahead of a possible blackout. And that is the new routine in this region, where the threat of fire is a new way of life, right down to the hardware store isles.
“It has changed everything,” Stuckley said of his store. “From fire extinguishers to sprinkler products, to the materials being used. Like I said, you just get a feeling that it’s on everybody’s mind. It’s right there, whereas before it was in the rear.”
The utility first cut off power preemptively to thousands of customers last October, affecting some 87,000 Northern California customers. The move prompted complaints and demands for reimbursement.
In January, the company sought bankruptcy protection, saying it could not afford an estimated $30 billion in potential damages from lawsuits stemming from catastrophic wildfires.
Earlier this month, PG&E agreed to pay $11 billion to insurance companies holding 85% of the claims from fires that include a November 2018 blaze that nearly destroyed the town of Paradise, killing 86 people.
The settlement, confirmed Monday, is subject to bankruptcy court approval.
It’s important for PG&E to pull itself from bankruptcy protection because it will be a big part of a wildfire fund set up to help California’s major utilities pay future claims as climate change makes wildfires more frequent and severe,
Southern California Edison said Sunday it was considering widely scattered public safety power shutdowns that would affect 10,240 customers in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Santa Barbara counties as forecasters predicted gusty Santa Ana winds.