PG&E Ready to Restore Power After Latest Safety Blackout

A PG&E transmission tower in the Berkeley Hills, October 2020.  (Dan Brekke/KQED)

Update 9:45 a.m. Friday, Oct. 23: With winds subsiding across Northern California, PG&E said it's in the process of restoring power to tens of thousands of customers in seven counties who had their lights turned off as part of the utility's latest pre-emptive wildfire-safety blackouts.

The number of customers and geographic extent of the shutoffs, which began Wednesday night, was reduced from the originally forecast 54,000 customers in 19 counties because high winds were neither as widespread or as persistent as first forecast. The utility says those affected should have power back by late Friday night.

The outages were focused mostly on three counties: Shasta, where more than 18,000 customers had lights turned off; Butte, with a little more than 10,000 customers were affected; and Tehama, with about 1,600 customers de-energized. A handful of outages were scattered across Plumas, Glenn, Colusa and Yolo counties.

The focus for PG&E and its customers now turns to yet another episode of gusty and potentially dangerous winds expected to arrive Sunday evening. Forecasts from the National Weather Service suggest the next wind event will be much stronger and impact a much wider area of California than recent wind events.

PG&E has already announced there's an "elevated" risk of power shutoffs Sunday through Tuesday that could affect parts of eight of the utility's nine geographic zones.

Update, 6:10 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21: PG&E has confirmed it will turn out the lights for 37,000 Northern California customers as windy red-flag fire conditions resume across the region.

The outages are scheduled to begin later Wednesday night for about 18,000 customers in Shasta County, at the northern end of the Sacramento Valley. The utility said it plans to shut off power to about 10,000 customers in neighboring Butte County after midnight.

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Residents scattered across 13 other counties will also be affected by outages.

That includes about 3,300 in Napa County, mostly in the hills east of the Napa Valley, and another 1,000 or so scattered through higher elevation areas of Sonoma, Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties. PG&E said it will shut off power in those areas before dawn Thursday.

The company is cutting power in response to the latest episode of dangerous fire weather in the region. National Weather Service offices in Northern California issued red-flag warnings for fire weather that will include winds gusting over 50 mph at higher elevations and humidity in the low teens.

PG&E scaled back the scope of the outages after issuing a public safety power shutoff watch on Tuesday. The utility's preliminary estimate was that about 54,000 customers in 19 counties would lose power.

The company says power will be restored to most areas by late Friday night.


Original post (Oct. 20, 2020): For the fourth time in the last six weeks, PG&E is advising tens of thousands of customers scattered across Northern California that they may have their power turned off due to high winds and very low humidity.

The state's largest utility said Tuesday it may begin switching off electricity starting Wednesday night to 54,000 customers in 19 counties, a move designed to ensure that the company's equipment won't spark wildfires.

Even before that fresh power outage notice sinks in, forecasters for both the utility and the National Weather Service say they are tracking another potential round of ominous, windy fire weather that could sweep the region next Sunday and Monday.

The exact number and geographic extent of Wednesday outages are a moving target, but they are expected to occur mostly in the northern Sierra Nevada foothills and the northern end of the Sacramento Valley.

PG&E said more than 22,000 customers could have their lights turned off in Shasta County, 11,000-plus in Butte County and nearly 8,000 in Tehama County.

In a preliminary list of anticipated outages released Wednesday afternoon, the company indicated about 6,500 Bay Area customers could be affected. About two-thirds of them are in Napa County, in the hills east of the Napa Valley. Outages would also affect higher-elevation areas of Solano and Sonoma and parts of the East Bay Hills in Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties.

In its early assessment of the situation, the company says North Bay locations will likely lose power early Thursday and be restored by Friday evening. East Bay locations would also be shut off early Thursday, but could have lights on again late the same night. Blacked-out areas farther north will likely be without power until late Friday.

PG&E's projected power outage came as the National Weather Service issued the latest in a series of red flag warnings for dangerous fire weather.

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The agency says that wide areas of Northern California will see gusty and very dry northerly or northeasterly winds beginning late Wednesday and lasting on and off through Friday morning. Winds are forecast to be strongest Wednesday night into Thursday morning before easing during daylight hours. A second burst of windy weather is expected to set in Thursday night.

If PG&E follows through with the potential shutoff, it will be the fourth the company has executed since early September.


This year's shutoffs have been much more limited in scope than the sweeping, disruptive blackouts the company imposed last year over huge swaths of its service area.

But this week's outages are unlikely to be the last this year.

National Weather Service San Francisco Bay Area forecaster Ryan Walbrun said high winds that could start as early as Saturday night and last through Monday could be stronger than the weather this week and cover a wider range.

"That would include, quite frankly, a lot of Northern California," Walbrun said. "It would of course include the typical North and East Bay hills. But the potential is that this is the kind of event where the wind will actually mix down into the valleys as well, into lower elevations."

He said that would mean areas like the lower East Bay Hills and the foothills above Santa Rosa, at elevations from 500 to 1,000 feet, might see the kind of potentially dangerous wind gusts usually seen only over much higher terrain.

And the one thing that could significantly reduce the region's ongoing fire danger — a nice soaking from an autumn storm — is nowhere in sight.

"Of course we don't expect any rain," Walbrun said, adding that weather models aren't showing any sign of a pattern change.

"Looking at the freshest set of models, some of the best models that we have, that run out through Halloween or early November, they're just not showing any signal for precipitation," he said. "Not only for the Bay Area, but really a lot of the West Coast stays dry."

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