PG&E Says High Winds Caused Damage to Lines During Preventive Power Outage

PG&E crews work to restore utility services in Paradise, California on February 01, 2019.  (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images))

PG&E crews found damage to electrical equipment during pre-emptive power outages in Northern California earlier this month, according to a report sent to utility regulators on Friday.

PG&E cut power on June 8-9 to roughly 1,600 customers in areas around Lake Berryessa, northeast of Napa, and some 20,000 customers in or near the area devastated by last November's Camp Fire.

The public safety power shutoff was intended to reduce the risk of wildfires during a period of high winds, hot temperatures and low humidity. Most of the outages lasted from 12 to 18 hours, with the utility restoring power to customers after fire risk subsided and crews inspected equipment for damage.

The pre-emptive shutoffs were the first of 2019 and are part of PG&E's new state-mandated wildfire mitigation plan

Friday's outage report was required by the California Public Utilities Commission and provides a detailed look at PG&E's reasoning for the shutoffs and how the utility communicated with customers and local officials about the event.

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PG&E said crews found five instances of "wind-related issues," all of which occurred in areas near last fall's Camp Fire. The report said wind gusts as high as 63 mph were recorded near the blacked-out areas.

Two of the wind-related incidents involved branches found on power lines in the Butte County city of Chico.

Two other instances -- including one in Oroville -- involved damage to service drops, lines that run power from utility poles to homes and other buildings.

The report said both of the service drop issues "appear to have been caused by falling vegetation" due to high winds.

In each case of damage, the utility said, crews repaired or replaced affected equipment before they turned power on again.

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The larger of the two shutoff areas, including Oroville and Paradise and other parts of Butte County, was ravaged last November by the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

Cal Fire investigators recently confirmed the Camp Fire was caused by PG&E's equipment.

Friday's report notes that PG&E may have fallen short in notifying public safety officials in communities affected by the power shutoff near Lake Berryessa. The utility said notifications were delayed because weather conditions were rapidly changing and the PG&E was uncertain whether it should have notified its "public safety partners during curfew hours."

The utility says it's working on ways to better notify people of planned power outages going forward.

There is no set criteria for when the utility will pre-emptively cut power, but PG&E says National Weather Service red flag warnings, low humidity and high winds could lead them to power down.

Over the past two years, fires caused by electrical facilities have killed more than 130 people and burned more than 20,000 homes statewide.