We all should know by now what PG&E's promises are worth. But the still-standing utility is making new pledges aimed at quelling the anger over public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) that seriously impacted many lives and businesses last fall.
The company says that it will make efforts this year to keep the shutoffs as brief and as small in area as they can. "PG&E is upgrading its electric system to prevent wildfires and reduce the impact of future PSPS events on our customers," PG&E says in a statement. "The company's efforts this year are expected to reduce the number of customers affected by a potential PSPS event by about one-third compared to a similar weather event last year."
In order to achieve more targeted blackouts, the company has been installing 600 "sectionalizing devices," it says, that will enable it to redirect power in the event of these shutoffs and limit their impact. They've also stated a new goal of restoring power within 12 daylight hours of any wind or weather event ending.
Beginning in late September, 2019, PG&E began purposely de-energizing parts of its electrical grid for periods often spanning multiple days in order to prevent deadly wildfire disasters like the ones sparked by its equipment in both 2017 and 2018. The company went about planning and executing the shutoffs ahead of predicted wind events at the height of fire season in October and November, drawing the ire of customers and politicians who felt they were being victimized in a new way by the company, all in the name of public safety.
We still managed to have one major wildfire in the Bay Area, the Kincade Fire, that began burning in late October and might have been sparked by malfunctioning PG&E equipment that was left on despite other parts of the grid being shut off in the same vicinity of Sonoma County.
And just a few weeks after that fire began, the California Public Utility Commission decided to investigate PG&E's power shutoffs and potentially fine the company for them. Then in January, state Senator Scott Wiener introduced a bill to incentivize PG&E to make their blackouts more targeted — forcing the company to reimburse costs associated with blackouts to customers and local governments. At the time, Wiener noted that the company's fear of fire liability had created an incentive to make the blackouts as broad-based and long as possible.
In order to continue its community outreach efforts, PG&E is hosting weekly webinars for customers in specific counties or groups of counties. These occur on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m., and the next two on June 24 and July 1 are focused on Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties; and Humboldt, Trinity and Siskiyou counties, respectively.
To get updates on your phone about PSPS in your area, you should update your contact info on the PG&E website. The company says it will alert customers three times to shutoffs — 48 hours before, 24 hours before, and then just prior to shutting off power.
Photo: Nishanth K.