This article discusses the devastating effects of PG& E’s decision to shut down the power grid due to fears of wildfires caused by wind-damaged equipment . Millions of people in California will be without electric power in up to thirty counties. Many are turning to alternative energies like propane to cook food. There are some people that will not have access to running water because of their reliance on electric pumps. This tragedy highlights the growing importance for Californian’s to have diverse energy options like biofuel, propane, solar, and wind that are not affected on such a large scale by natural elements. Heavy winds are expected to peak Thursday October 10.
Large swaths of Northern California awoke without power Wednesday as Pacific Gas & Electric began a sweeping plan to shut off electricity to about 800,000 customers in a desperate attempt to avoid wildfires sparked by wind-damaged equipment.
The first power cutoffs, affecting about 513,000 customers, began shortly after midnight in several counties around Sacramento, including Placer and Yuba. As strengthening winds continue to roll out in the morning hours, millions of Californians will eventually be left in the dark.
By 12:30 a.m., power had been cut to large portions of wine country, including Napa and Sonoma valleys. Portions of Marin County just north of San Francisco lost power next. Minutes later, the utility cut service in El Dorado County and sections of the upper Sacramento Valley. By 5 a.m., the outages had extended to Humbolt County to the north, Marin County to the south and Nevada County to the east, according to amap provided by the utility.
The second phase of the shutoff is expected to occur around noon in areas around Silicon Valley and the East San Francisco Bay. About 234,000 customers in Alameda, Alpine, Contra Costa, Mariposa, San Joaquin, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties are expected to lose power between noon and 5 p.m.
On Tuesday, Southern California Edison announced it also was considering preventive power outages. The utility said that, given the strong Santa Ana winds forecast for the area, power could be cut off to more than 106,000 customers in parts of eight Southern California counties.
The outage could affect customers in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, as well as areas in Ventura County and portions of Kern, Tulare, Inyo and Mono counties.
The PG&E blackouts are expected to ultimately affect 34 counties in Central and Northern California, more than half of the counties in the state.
It marks the largest power shutdown to date as California utilities attempt to reduce wildfire risks from heavy winds. Equipment malfunctions have been tied to some of the state’s most destructive and deadly fires, including last year’s Camp fire, which devastated the town of Paradise, killing 85 people, and the 2017 wine country blazes.
Based on the latest forecasts, the utility says it expects high winds will last through midday Thursday, with peak winds reaching up to 70 mph from early Wednesday through Thursday morning. Once the fire weather subsides, PG&E will inspect and test the grid both with on-site crews and electronically before restoring service. This could take up to five days, a company official said.
The power shutoffs have generated backlash, with some residents saying they create a whole new set of dangers as they try to watch for news about fires. There is also concern about those with health issues who rely on electrically powered medical equipment to stay alive.
“I think this is a tacit admission that they recognize their liability for huge wildfires we’ve had and that their grid has a lot of deficiencies,” James Moore, an attorney from Auburn in Placer County, said of the widespread outage.
Moore said he realized the power had been cut off when his CPAP machine stopped working overnight. Moore and his wife, Kristen, tried to prepare as best they could with limited notice, filling cars with gas and buying ice to keep refrigerated items cold, he said.
Their home has electric appliances, so cooking will be limited to a propane grill they use for camping. And because an electric pump brings water to the property, the couple also will not have running water.
“I wish they would have been more transparent in informing people earlier of their plan to do these kind of power shutoffs,” Moore said. “I recognize the weather is not something they can predict very far in the future, but the fact they’re turning off power in 34 counties is a humongous inconvenience, to say the least.”
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said the state is acting to make sure similar outages do not become common in the future.
“People rely on electricity for their medicine, their food and their livelihood. This is a completely unacceptable state of affairs. While targeted blackouts can help prevent wildfires, we can’t let PG&E normalize these blackouts,” he said.
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