On Wednesday evening, Northern California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced that more than 50,000 people would be without power for up to two days as windy weather, high temperatures, and dry conditions increased the likelihood of a wildfire sparking.
The power shutdown will affect people in and around both the San Francisco Bay area and the Sierras. The planned blackouts are used to prevent fires starting by sparks from faulty power lines, such as how the deadly Camp Fire was sparked in 2018.
The shutdowns come just over a year after controversial planned blackouts in Northern California left millions of Californians in the dark, threatened the health and safety of elderly and immobile residents, caused PG&E to lose more leverage during their bankruptcy crisis earlier this year, and caused lawmakers to write several bills that would install backup power generators in critically needed areas such as cell phone towers.
In August, major wildfires throughout the state and an over-reliance on green energy helped cause another round of blackouts across PG&E areas. The worse than usual wildfire season and green energy fragmentation caused PG&E to announce that even more planned blackouts would be occurring this year in high wildfire risk areas, leading to Wednesdays announcement and power shutdown.
“These are challenging times. Not only are we right in the peak of the wildfire season, many of us are working from home, schooling from home as well,” said PG&E incident commander Mark Quinlan in a statement. “We recognize that hardships are introduced when we shut off power. It’s our last resort option.”
While PG&E has said that improved power shutoff systems and shorter blackout times would lead to less people getting blackouts, the 50,000 people without power on Thursday still affects 1% of PG&E’s 5.1 million customers in California. Many experts have also said that while fewer people are affected for less time, the overall number of blackouts may be on the rise.
Energy companies say they are doing everything possible to avoid another Paradise disaster.
“This isn’t just PG&E,” energy grid consultant Ryan Grant said in an interview with the Globe. “Every major electric company in California is doing this now. PG&E just has a lot more older lines going through rural, wooded area. And we can’t forget that they are now the industry warning tale for not having de-energization events to prevent wildfires. They didn’t turn off power around Paradise in November 2018, and two years later they are responsible for 84 deaths and have had to pay tens of billions to the victims, in fines, and a host of other things.
“What we saw yesterday in PG&E de-energizing areas is directly correlated to not doing enough about wildfires two years ago, and as a response to the large scale wildfires that have flared up in the last several months, like the August Complex Fire and the SCU Lightning Complex Fire.
“And, if you really look at their press releases on the wildfires, you can tell how much they stress that these have been caused naturally by lightning, by arsonists, or, and they really had a field day with this one, caused by a gender reveal party gone wrong. They’re doing everything they can to not only prevent wildfires but also show how they have not been responsible.”
As of Thursday, no new wildfires have been reported despite the prime weather conditions. However, more blackouts are expected this weekend by experts due to the weather conditions in Northern California.
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