Published: Fri, October 11, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

California governor calls widespread electricity shutdown to prevent fires 'unacceptable'

California governor calls widespread electricity shutdown to prevent fires 'unacceptable'

PG&E said in a statement that once the weather eases and it is safe to venture out, "crews will begin patrolling power lines, repairing damaged equipment and restoring customers".

That's already happened for some people, as KPIX says that 44,000 customers who lost power have had it restored, and as many 80,000 Humboldt County households and businesses are expected to get their electricity back soon. PG&E initiated the outages intentionally, fearing that unusually high winds and dry conditions could lead to more drastic wildfires like California has seen the seen the last few years.

PG&E, which filed for bankruptcy at the beginning of this year burdened by the devastating 2018 wildfires in California, began on Wednesday morning the first phase of its three-phase Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) in large parts of its service areas in northern and central California.

Much of northern California, from San Francisco to the OR border, remains under a state "red flag" fire alert, although no major blazes have been reported.

The National Weather Service in San Francisco issued a red flag warning Thursday, for the Santa Cruz Mountains as well as hills and valleys in the North Bay and East Bay areas through 5 p.m. local Thursday. He said extremely low humidity levels added to the fire threat.

"What has occurred in the last 48 hours is unacceptable", Newsom said.

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Transmission lines operated by PG&E have been linked to wildfires that have decimated several California communities. "They're trying to manage their risk, and if I was in their shoes I would probably do the same thing, 'cause you don't know". When subdivisions are built in especially dry, windy and wooded areas of California, the homes need power, but they're at higher risk for fires, Pincetl said.

"PG&E has a very, very, very extensive grid", Pincetl said.

The shutdown also "shows that PG&E, the public utilities commission and regulators have not really worked to figure out strategies to mitigate the potential of wildfire driven by our electricity infrastructure", Pincetl said.

"We have found multiple cases of damage or hazards" caused by heavy winds, including fallen branches that came in contact with overhead lines, said Sumeet Singh, a vice president for the utility. The fires in that region killed 46 people.

PG&E CEO Bill Johnson didn't respond to Newsom's criticisms but promised if future wind events require similar shutoffs, the utility will "do better" when it comes to communicating with customers.

"There's speculation that this [preemptive shutoff] is PG&E's way of saying, it [underground power lines] might be expensive, but the alternative is to have these shutoffs", said Wolfram.

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