SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — For the fourth time this month, Pacific Gas and Electric launched a tidal wave of preventive power outages across the San Francisco Bay Area early Tuesday, triggering rising anger and frustration among the thousands of customers facing life without electricity.
PG&E began implementing a new Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) Tuesday to approximately 540,000 customers in Northern California, with more than 270,000 customers in the Bay Area.
Power shutoff for affected customers in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa counties was expected to begin at 10 p.m. on Tuesday evening. But PG&E said around 11:30 p.m. that it continues to monitor weather forecasts to determine whether shutoffs are necessary overnight.
Though Marin County will be spared from this next round of shutoffs, many Marin residents who lost their power over the weekend will not have their electricity turned back on until Thursday.
Approximately 400,000 customers who lost power in the Oct. 26 PSPS event will remain without service as part of the Oct. 29 event, PG&E said.
According to PG&E officials, 73 percent of customers affected by the Oct. 26 PSPS event had been restored as of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday evening. That translates to approximately 650,000 customers with power restored across the affected area of Northern California.
In Sonoma County where another 86,000 customers will lose power, Petaluma resident Scotty Richardson has been without power since Saturday. He vented his growing frustration at the on-again, off-again roller coaster of outages.
“PG&E can’t figure out how to deliver power reliably without killing people,” Richardson told the Associated Press. “This is more than three strikes — it’s a failure of epic proportions.”
Richardson said he and his fiance run a business out of their home, so “it’s imperative that we have electricity. Everything is done for us by a computer or phone.” he said.
He also said his refrigerated foods has spoiled and he worried that the ongoing outages might lower property values.
“This has been a massive inconvenience,” he said. “This can’t be the new normal.”
ALSO READ: Bay Area Power Shutoff Survival Guide
Sausalito residents, particularly those who live on houseboats, said they were thrilled when their power came on Tuesday evening after four straight days without it. Late Tuesday, PG&E said Marin County would be spared from additional outages.
“It’s been miserable but I feel like brand new again,” said Susie Dupuis of Sausalito. “It’s hard to cook, it’s hard to clean, it’s hard to do anything, I have work to do that’s stacked like this, I can’t use my computer.”
Living on the water comes with unique challenges.
“They put Porta Potties at the end of the dock for us, in other words, we couldn’t flush the toilets or use them at all,” said Susan Trott of Sausalito.
For Rohnert Park resident Carl Hamilton, Tuesday was his family’s fourth day without power.
“It’s been hard. We’re making it through,” said Hamilton.
He said he is spending more money than usual just to keep his family fed by going to a lot of fast food restaurants. Hamilton also uses a CPAP machine to sleep, which means he needs a generator. He spent $1,000 on the last one at the store.
“It got us through the night, but you see, I’m out here gassing up now just to keep that generator going, trying to keep our food cold and try not to take anymore losses. Because we’ve been taking losses,” he explained.
Rohnert Park resident Tisha Mason was in a similar situation. She also hasn’t had power since Saturday.
“PG&E really sucks. They should think about people,” said Mason. “I’ve lost all my food, I don’t have service on my phone, my mom is out of state and I can’t even get in contact with her. It’s just been really hard.”
But the hardship is not enough to make her consider moving.
“No. Absolutely not,” she said. “I was born and raised in San Francisco. I am a California native and that’s just what I’m going to continue to be.”
Not too far north of his hometown, thousands remained evacuated from their homes as the Kincade Fire continued its march through Wine Country. By Tuesday morning, the fire had consumed 74,324 acres, destroying 123 structures including 57 homes.
PG&E said it experienced equipment failure on a transmission tower at the time the fire began last Wednesday. A cause of the fire was still under investigation.
The utility also said down power lines may have ignited two weekend wildfires in Lafayette, one which destroyed the Lafayette Tennis Club. The areas was not included in the PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs because the company had not designated them as a high fire risk.
The third wave of power shutoffs will impact
Here’s a breakdown of Tuesday outages:
Beginning At 7 a.m.
- Napa: 16,820 — Castro Valley, Oakland, San Leandro, Sunol
- Solano: 20,507 — Vallejo, Suisun City, Vacaville, Fairfield
- Sonoma: 86,713 — Annapolis, Bodega, Bodega Bay, Camp Meeker, Cazadero, Cloverdale, Cotati, Duncan Mills, Forestville, Geyserville, Glen Ellen, Graton, Guerneville, Healdsburg, Jenner, Kenwood, Monte Rio, Occidental, Penn Grove, Petaluma, Rio Nido, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Sonoma, Sea Ranch, Stewarts Point Valley Ford, Villa Grande, Windsor
Beginning at 10 p.m.
- San Mateo: 13,209 — El Granada, Half Moon Bay, La Honda, Loma Mar, Montera, Moss Beach, Pescadero, San Gregorio, Redwood City, Woodside
- Alameda: 10,306 — Castro Valley, Oakland, San Leandro, Sunol
- Santa Cruz: 5,408 — Boulder Creek, Davenport, Santa Cruz
- Santa Clara: 496 — Cupertino, Los Gatos, Milpitas, San Jose
- Contra Costa: 204 — Canyon, Moraga
When asked whether Public Safety Power Shutoffs will become California’s “new normal,” Vesey said shutoffs figure to be a part of the plan for the foreseeable future.
“We want the shutoffs to be the absolute last resort,” Vesey said. “We know that will take time. But we believe that Public Safety Power Shutoffs need to remain a viable option.”
PG&E’s CEO Bill Johnson confirmed Tuesday evening that the utility will offer bill credits for customers affected by the firsts PSPS event on Oct. 9. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the credit earlier in the day at a news conference in Southern California.
“This is significant because utilities in the past have never credited customers for these disruptions,” Newsom said.
Johnson said, “We have carefully considered the Governor’s request to provide reimbursement for our customers impacted by the Oct. 9 PSPS, and we have agreed to move forward with a one-time bill credit for customers impacted by that event.”
On Monday, the California Public Utilities Commission announced it would be launching an investigation into the shutoffs.
Although the PSPS program by PG&E helps lower the chances of utility infrastructure igniting fires, the CPUC has expressed concern over the disruption the shutoffs are causing for residents, businesses and communities.
“The state cannot continue to experience PSPS events on the scope and scale Californians have experienced this month, nor should Californians be subject to the poor execution that PG&E in particular has exhibited,” commission President Marybel Batjer said in a statement.
“Through the actions announced today, as well as other steps under our regulatory purview, the CPUC will demand that utilities prepare for and execute PSPS events in a way that greatly reduces impacts on Californians,” she said.
In addition to a formal investigation into the PSPS, the CPUC will also re-examine how utilities use power shutoffs; ensure that utilities don’t charge customers during the shutoffs; direct utilities to focus on safety for the 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Plan; and gather experts to identify new technologies that can help minimize the use of PSPS.
In a statement, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he agreed with the CPUC’s decision.
“I want to see the CPUC launch a total reform of power shutoff rules and regulations. Utilities must be held accountable and be aggressively penalized for their over reliance on PSPS, and the product of this investigation must be new rules and regulations to do that. I also want to see customers not charged for PSPS. It seems obvious, but under the current rules, utilities can do just that. It’s unacceptable and must be remedied,” he said.