PG&E Restores Power to Estimated 738,000 Customers Affected by Shutoffs

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A sign calling for PG&E to turn the power back on is seen on the side of the road during the statewide blackout in Calistoga, California, on October, 10, 2019. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images))

PG&E says all power has been restored to the estimated 738,000 Northern California customers who lost electricity after the state's largest utility switched it off this week in an effort to prevent wildfires.

The company announced the update on Twitter Saturday night. PG&E says about 6,300 personnel and 44 helicopters were used to inspect power lines and restore service.

PG&E said the blackouts were part of an effort to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires amid forecasts for severe winds and dry conditions.

The utility's power lines were found to have started several destructive and deadly wildfires over the past few years, including 2018's Camp Fire that leveled the town of Paradise. These blazes ran up tens of billions of dollars in lawsuit claims that drove the company into bankruptcy.

The autumnal "Diablo winds," which led to the shutoff, visit the region roughly three to five times every year, says James Matthews, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"But not of this magnitude," said Matthews about the winds, which have not blown over such widespread an area since the 2017 North Bay Fires. Matthews said Diablo winds this strong can be expected every 2 to 5 years.

The unprecedented power shutdown was inconvenient to many. It affected nearly 2 million Northern California residents.  Food spoiled in refrigerators that were left without power, wine grapes weren't picked as wineries' working coolers were not operating and lab specimens went home with their researchers.

The shutdown kept more than 130,000 California students out of school for at least one day, according to CalMatters.

A PG&E spokesperson said Thursday that 29,819 customers with medical needs would be affected by the outages. These are households enrolled in the utility’s medical baseline program, which offers lower energy rates for older and disabled people who need extra power to operate ventilators, dialysis machines or mechanized wheelchairs.

Some people with chronic illnesses and disabilities organized to help those who depend on power for essential resources like breathing and mobility devices.

The city of San Francisco made an offer of $2.5 billion to buy PG&E's  local power lines in early September. In a letter addressed to city officials, PG&E said the city’s offer was too low.

The Power Shutoffs

The utility also said that the city underestimated substantial costs and, if PG&E sold the assets to the city, customers would see their rates rise.

"Our San Francisco-based facilities are not for sale and to do so would not be consistent with our charter to operate or our mission to serve Northern and Central California communities," said PG&E CEO and President Bill Johnson in the letter.

He went on to say that they "disagree with the suggestion that PG&E's San Francisco customers would be better served by another entity."

The city has been considering the purchase since the utility filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January due to mounting liability for wildfires sparked by its equipment. The city has argued that it could provide safer, more reliable and more affordable service for its residents.