Northern California remains pretty parched despite some passing mists last week, and wind conditions coming to mountain areas this week mean that more proactive power shutoffs are likely in our future.
Monday and Tuesday are set to see light to moderate winds, as Bay City News reports, with the North Bay mountains and East Bay hills expected to see higher wind velocities come Wednesday night into Thursday — possibly topping out around 55 miles per hour.
PG&E issued a warning Sunday about possible shutoffs to 17 counties, primarily to the north and east of the Bay Area, but including Napa, Sonoma, and San Mateo counties. [Update: The list of potential counties to be affected was updated Monday, removing Marin and Solano, but adding San Mateo County.] The warning suggests "a potentially strong and dry offshore wind event Wednesday and Thursday" that will create more hazardous conditions near utility lines. The utility said the scope of the potential shutoffs would be "smaller in terms of scope and impact" than the shutoffs between October 9 and 12. And, interestingly, while the East Bay hills likely remain of concern, Alameda and Contra Costa counties — which are among the most populated counties in the region — aren't on the initial list getting the heads up.
As Curbed notes, the National Weather Service hasn't yet issued a Red Flag Warning for the region for this week, though it says that one may be on the way.
There are three executives at PG&E who are ultimately responsible for making the call about when and where these public-safety shutoffs occur. As SFGate reports via filings with state regulators last week, they are Senior Vice President of Electric Operations Michael Lewis, Vice President of Asset and Risk Management Sumeet Singh, and Vice President of Electric Operations on Major Projects and Programs Ahmad Ababneh.
PG&E executives were in the hot seat at a hearing last week with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) where commission president Marybel Batjer blasted the company for its poor communications practices before and during the shutoffs two weeks ago.
At the hearing, as KPIX reports, PG&E CEO Bill Johnson defended the shutoffs and tried to shut down criticism that they had been undertaken solely to reduce the company's liability. Johnson pointed to 100 instances of wind-caused contact between trees and power lines that could have potentially caused an ignition if the lines had been energized.
Johnson further said that it could take PG&E ten years to install enough covered lines and "micro-grids" to remove the need for widespread proactive shutoffs.