/With 1M Californians still in the dark, PG&E apologizes for not being adequately prepared for preventive outage

With 1M Californians still in the dark, PG&E apologizes for not being adequately prepared for preventive outage

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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 – Pacific Gas & Electric restored power for about 426,000 homes and businesses on Thursday as red flag warnings were lifted across most of Northern California, clearing the way for the state’s largest power company to end a preventive outage aimed at reducing wildfire risk.

With weather conditions improving, PG&E crews were focused on turning the lights back on for another 312,000 subscribers who were still in the dark as of late Thursday night.

Because of the dangerous weather in the forecast, PG&E cut power Wednesday to an estimated 2 million people in an area that spanned the San Francisco Bay Area, the wine country north of San Francisco, the agricultural Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills. By Thursday evening, the weather had eased and the number of customers in the dark was down to about 510,000.

About 1 million people across California were without power from three utilities Thursday night. 

Although a few fires sparked across the state, prompting evacuations in some areas and potentially validating the preemptive shutdowns, Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized the beleaguered and bankrupt utility for decades of “greed and mismanagement.”  

“What has occurred in the last 48 hours is unacceptable,” Newsom said. “We are seeing the scale and scope of something that no state in the 21st century should experience.”

PG&E President and CEO Bill Johnson promised that any future preemptive outage will be smoother, acknowledging the utility did not effectively communicate the shutoffs. 

“We did not deliver on this commitment at this time,” Johnson said at a press conference. “Our website crashed several times, our maps are inconsistent — perhaps incorrect — our call centers were overloaded. To put it quite simply, we were not adequately prepared for this event.” 

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PG&E warned that many homes and businesses might not get electricity back for several days because of the massive effort it will take to inspect power lines. Crews have found 11 cases of damaged power lines that need to be repaired, according to a press release. . 

‘A victim of their own failure’: Why PG&E’s massive power shutdown in California was inevitable

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.

Southern California was not exempt.

About 23,870  Southern California Edison customers were “de-energized” in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Ventura and Kern counties as of  late Thursday. San Diego Gas & Electric also shut off power for 425 customers. Power may be cut to tens of thousands more subscribers if weather forecasts and fickle Santa Ana winds shift. Experts say each electrical customer represents between two and three people.

Preemptive outages are not entirely new in the Golden State. 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.”

Early Thursday, police ordered evacuations as a fast-moving blaze charred about 40 acres in Moraga, about 10 miles east of Oakland. South of San Francisco, flames engulfed part of the San Bruno mountains in a fire that was 60% contained.

‘PG&E clearly hasn’t made its system safe: California lawmakers slam utility

In Calimesa, about 40 miles northwest of Palm Springs, a fire that had grown to 500 acres by Thursday night destroyed 74 structures and prompted the evacuation of a middle school and nearby residences. It was 10% contained, according to Cal Fire.

The Newbury Park Fire broke out Thursday night in Ventura County, growing quickly from a few acres to 50 acres by 8 p.m. Later, the Saddleridge Fire forced the California Highway Patrol to close the 210 Freeway in both directions and triggered a mandatory evacuation for one community, according to a tweet from the Los Angeles Fire Department.

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 power is out: Here’s what you need to know

Another 4,000 PG&E customers lost power in Kern County, home to Bakersfield, on Thursday morning. Fire concerns are expected to end Friday, allowing crews to begin inspecting equipment. 

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.

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. PG&E 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,” SCE 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.”

Bacon reported from McLean, Virginia. Contributing: Kristin Lam, USA TODAY; Cheri Carlson, Ventura County Star; Chris Damien, Shane Newell and Gabrielle Canon, Palm Springs Desert Sun; The Associated Press

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/10/10/california-power-outage-power-restored-some-still-in-dark/3927858002/

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