/Power restored to some, but 2 million Californians still in the dark – and rolling blackouts could expand

Power restored to some, but 2 million Californians still in the dark – and rolling blackouts could expand

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California’s largest utility says as many as two million people will remain without power at least through Thursday as a precaution against wildfires. The outage affects mostly Northern California and parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. (Oct 9)
AP, AP

REDDING, California – The state’s largest power company turned the lights back on for more than 100,000 homes and businesses Thursday as improving weather conditions eased the wildfire risk in some areas.

Power remained out for more than 600,000 customers of Pacific Gas & Electric – about 2 million residents – as high winds and hot, dry conditions conspired to raise fire concerns through much of Northern California. Southern California Edison said it “de-energized” 4,700 customers in Los Angeles and three other counties.

PG&E warned that many homes and businesses might not get power back for several days. And power may be cut to more customers if weather forecasts and fickle Santa Ana winds start to shift.

Wind gusts reached as high as 70 mph in some areas overnight, and gusty winds could last into Friday in some areas, the National Weather Service warned.

The blackouts began early Wednesday in more than 500,000 homes. Almost 250,000 homes were added later in the day and into Thursday, utility officials said.

For many, losing electricity is more than just an inconvenience. In Anderson, Lisa Round started her car before going to bed so she could power her sleep apnea mask through the night. Without it, there’s a chance she could stop breathing, she said.

“I ran my car so that I wouldn’t die in my sleep,” she said.

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At Regency Place Senior Apartments, residents – some of whom are more than 100 years old – were told to ask their oxygen providers for extra supplies. Other residents have a variety of special needs, according to community manager Janet Applegarth-Yarbrough.

“I check on them several times a day because you just never know,” she said.

The three utilities regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission have had more than 4 million customer hours of preemptive outages since the end of 2017.

“We faced a choice between hardship or safety, and we chose safety,” said Michael Lewis, a utility vice president. “We deeply apologize for the inconvenience and the hardship, but we stand by the decision because the safety of our customers and communities must come first.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom said his office was working with communities to ease the burden of the outages, known as Public Safety Power Shutoffs. He defended their use, saying keeping people safe must be the priority.

“The frustration that Californians feel as they deal with the impacts of these power outages is warranted,” he said. “The purpose of utilities across our state conducting PSPS is to protect communities against the real threat of wildfires due to existing weather conditions.”

Thousands of kids were locked out of darkened schools. The University of California-Berkeley canceled classes for its 42,000 students for a second day because power was out on campus. UC-Santa Cruz also was shut down Thursday.

The rolling blackouts could expand. A third phase is being considered for portions of Kern County, home to Bakersfield. The improving weather conditions meant that about 4,000 customers would be involved, down from an estimate of 43,000 earlier in the week, the company said.

Millions of Californians were on edge as utility companies weigh the risks of active transmission lines sparking a wildfire vs. the burden that shutting down those lines places on customers.

PG&E is particularly sensitive to wildfire issues. The utility declared bankruptcy this year after being held liable for tens of billions in damages resulting from many of the dozens of deadly wildfires that flared in recent years because of downed power lines or other utility equipment.

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Southern California was not exempt. Southern California Edison  considered plans to cut power to 180,000 homes and businesses, including almost 50,000 in Los Angeles County. San Diego Gas and Electric notified 30,000 customers that outages could be coming.

Difficulties obtaining the latest information on outages added to the frustration. Thousands of residents clicked links to utility company websites only to find them inaccessible. Pacific Gas & Electric alleviated some of its website overload by setting up an alternative page where people could find out their status.

Websites problems also flared up to the south, where Southern California Edison considered plans to cut power to 18 communities.

“We’re aware of intermittent issues,” Southern California Edison said in a note on its website. “If you experience an issue, please try again later. We’re working to resolve the issue as soon as possible and apologize for any inconvenience.”

Late Wednesday, Cal Fire expanded its red flag warning toward the Central Valley, a 450-mile-long stretch of the state’s interior.

“There is a #RedFlagWarning that has expanded towards the central valley and is issued for most of Northern CA and the southernmost portion of CA from today until late Thursday evening, and even into Friday for some areas, due to strong winds/low humidity,” Cal Fire tweeted. 

Bacon reported from McLean, Virginia. Contributing: Cheri Carlson, Ventura County Star

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