The current outage — formally called a public safety power shutoff and designed to prevent fires sparked by live electrical lines — is the largest preemptive blackout declared so far, affecting roughly 2.5 million people.
In the hours after the shutoff, winds raged through the Sonoma County hills and mountains, with the highest recorded gusts topping 90 mph. The fierce winds pushed the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County southward, prompting evacuation orders for 180,000 people.
Although winds eased somewhat during the day Sunday, gusts exceeding 70 mph were common in the area and complicated Cal Fire's effort to stop the fire from spreading south from the outskirts of Healdsburg and Windsor into Santa Rosa or jumping U.S. 101 and beginning a run to the Sonoma County coast.
PG&E started the restoration process earlier than anticipated in some areas, including the northern Sacramento Valley, northern Sierra and the North Coast, PG&E incident commander Mark Quinlan said during Sunday's briefing.
Crews will begin the process of inspecting lines and turning power back on for the remaining affected areas between 6 and 8 a.m. Monday, he said.
But even as that restoration effort proceeds, the company is preparing for the renewed onset of high winds Tuesday and Wednesday.
The potential Tuesday-Wednesday shutoffs will have a geographical footprint in the North Bay nearly identical to the weekend blackouts but will cover a reduced area in the East and South Bay, Quinlan said.
On Sunday, the company sent out a 48-hour notification to warn approximately 500,000 customers of potential shutoffs. However, this number is expected to change by Monday due to evolving weather conditions and transmission analysis, Quinlan said.
“We're in the process of determining where and who, because we understand how important that is to customers. We understand that they need to make plans, and we want to be as transparent as we can," Quinlan said. The company expects to have these details by Monday morning, he added.
PG&E spokesman Paul Doherty said some of the hundreds of thousands left in the dark by the blackout that began Saturday may not have power restored until after the Tuesday-Wednesday outage.
"While we will make every effort to restore power to as many customers as possible who are currently out, because this is such a dynamic situation with changing weather conditions, some customers who are currently without power ... may remain out through the next potential PSPS event," Doherty said.
He cautioned that customers who do have power restored after the weekend shutdown may have only a brief window before the lights go out again.
"For those customers who are able to have their power restored between events, we urge them to use that opportunity to charge their devices, their phones, any medical equipment and that sort of thing," he said.
News of the next potential shutoff came amid renewed criticism of the utility's preemptive outages.
Controversy over the public safety shutoffs has been fanned by a PG&E report that one of its power lines in northeastern Sonoma County experienced a problem just minutes before the Kincade Fire was reported Wednesday night and in the same area the blaze is believed to have started. Cal Fire is continuing to investigate what sparked the blaze.
State Sen. Mike McGuire, a Healdsburg Democrat who was among those forced to evacuate as the Kincade Fire spread Saturday, on Sunday called PG&E's power shutoffs "a debacle."
"They lack the basic fundamentals to successfully execute a large and complex outage," McGuire said during an appearance on KQED-FM on Sunday. "I think we're in this situation now for three reasons: lack of investment and mismanagement by PG&E on their electrical system, the lack of supervision and enforcement by the (California) Public Utilities Commission, and because we're facing a new climate reality in this state that's caught up with Pacific Gas and Electric."
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has been an increasingly vocal critic of how PG&E is conducting the outages, told KQED on Sunday that the company's "decades ... of malfeasance and corporate greed, focused on shareholders and not on you and me and the taxpayers and their customers, cannot be solved overnight. I get people's frustration, I can assure you I am frustrated. ... But I also recognize my unique responsibility to fix this damn thing and do everything to hold PG&E and my own Public Utilities Commission to account to fix this in a way that this does not become the new normal."