PG&E is notifying tens of thousands of customers that it may shut off their power Monday due to potentially dry, windy conditions that could create an increased fire risk.
The utility announced Saturday that 44,000 customers in parts of 32 counties – including Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties – may lose electricity Monday. PG&E is sending these customers two-day notices. Seven tribes also may be affected.
According to PG&E, its meteorologists are monitoring a potential weather system that could bring dry, gusty offshore winds to parts of the northern, central and southern regions of the company’s service area beginning Monday morning. The potential weather system combined with extreme to exceptional drought and extremely dry vegetation, could pose an increased fire risk, PG&E said.
Despite the potential for rain in some areas this weekend, PG&E is notifying customers of the possible outage, described by the utility as a Public Safety Power Shutoff, in case it doesn’t rain or forecasted wind speeds still pose a wildfire risk.
The potential Monday morning shutoffs could begin in portions of the North Valley, Sacramento, and San Joaquin Foothills. Potential shutoffs for the Northern Sierra Foothills, North Bay, North Coast regions, Bay Area hills and the Central Valley could begin Monday evening, depending on the timing of the wind event, the utility said. Notifications via text, email and automated phone call began Saturday, the utility said.
Customers can also look up their address online to find out if their location is being monitored for the potential safety shutoff at pge.com/pspsupdates. This emergency website is now available in 16 languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Russian, Vietnamese, Korean, Farsi, Arabic, Hmong, Khmer, Punjabi, Japanese, Thai, Portuguese, and Hindi.
“Many counties will only have small portions of expected outages, some fewer than 100 customers,” the utility said in a news release. PG&E also noted that conditions could change.
Solano County is the Bay Area county with the most customers who could be affected by the outages, according to PG&E. In Solano County, 4,559 customers and 423 Medical Baseline customers could be affected.
In Napa County, 2,207 customers and 107 Medical Baseline customers could be affected. The utility said 601 customers and 40 Medical Baseline customers could be affected in Contra Costa County, while 134 customers and 10 Medical Baseline customers could be affected in Alameda County.
The utility said 87 customers in Sonoma and one Medical Baseline customer could be affected.
PG&E activated its Emergency Operations Center on Friday to support the potential weather event.
If customers enrolled in the company’s Medical Baseline program do not verify that they have received notices, PG&E employees will conduct individual, in-person visits, the utility said.
In August of this year, PG&E faced questions and criticism about its power shutoff policies during a public briefing with the California Public Utilities Commission. The briefing was the third in a series of meetings with California electricity companies to discuss their efforts to reduce the frequency and impact of the PSPS events.
Throughout the briefing, CPUC President Marybel Batjer pressed PG&E’s senior vice president and chief risk officer Sumeet Singh on specifics of PG&E’s work to limit the number and scope of PSPS events, stressing the commission’s position that shutting off energy to customers should be an absolute last result.
“Unlike other mitigation strategies, these PSPS events have very real and very direct impacts to customers. It is trading individual risk to customers for reducing wildfire risk,” she said. “At risk in a PSPS event are people’s lives and their livelihoods.”
One of PG&E’s measures for the shutoffs, Singh told the group, is updated guidance for when to resort to a PSPS event and new machine modeling. Previously, PG&E based their PSPS decision-making on the likelihood of a large fire happening due to factors like wind speed, low humidity and nearby dry fuel.
The updated modeling incorporates historical weather data and local outage trends to determine the likelihood of igniting a catastrophic fire. It also allows the utility to determine the likelihood that trees nearby will fall over on to power lines, potentially causing a fire.
In April, a federal judge overseeing PG&E’s criminal probation recommended the utility do exactly that — to take into account what PG&E now calls their “tree overstrike criteria” when deciding whether to schedule a PSPS event. According to Singh, the new criteria would have reduced the number of PSPS events occurring between 2017 and 2019, though the number of events in 2020 would have stayed the same.
The utility was placed on probation in 2016 after a federal court found that PG&E neglected to keep accurate and complete records or address potential threats in its natural gas pipelines leading up to a 2010 fatal gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno.