The California wildfires have now collectively burned over 3.2 million acres across the state — an area the size of Connecticut — with the August Complex fire still just 30 percent contained. To thwart further catastrophe, PG&E is warning account holders to prepare for more power shutoffs… again.
Rolling blackouts and other controlled power outages are quickly becoming a new normal over the state’s increasingly taxed energy grid and historic wildfires. Last month, over 220,000 PG&E customers had their lights go off when the California Independent System Operator (ISO) issued rolling blackouts across the state — the first in nearly two decades — to prevent the grid from overloading. Then last week, there was a big round of Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) that impacted around 172,000 customers across Northern California in an effort to prevent windblown equipment failures from sparking wildfires.
And now in a bout of deja vu, the utility company is cautioning customers that more impromptu (though less severe) outages are on the horizon as the state continues to grapple with enormous blazes.
A PSPS is intended to reduce the risk of wildfires by proactively turning off power where dangerous weather is forecast. PG&E monitors conditions and evaluates several factors before turning off the power. Watch this video to learn more: https://t.co/M7G8hFvB0x— PG&E (@PGE4Me) September 8, 2020
But, as KTVU reports via PG&E's continued PR push, unlike last year, the implementation of this fall's PSPS events comes at a time marked by not only a global pandemic and raging wildfires, but dangerous air conditions too. Thousands are, admittedly, trapped indoors… and at the mercy of their air purifiers and air conditioners. (And, too, at the cost of their mental health.)
Alas, residents of the Golden State are more reliant on electricity than ever — a real catch-22.
"This is critically important to reducing wildfire but we understand that it’s frustrating to our customers," said PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith to the local Fox affiliate. That said, the utility company — which just recently rose out from bankruptcy and settled a $13.5 billion agreement with victims of past major wildfires — plans on making these PSPS rollouts less inconvenient and more thoroughly fleshed out than prior examples.
PG&E began making these promises for "more targeted" and briefer PSPS events back in June.
"The idea is that each year the public safety power shutoffs will become smaller and they will not last as long," Smith continued in his latest comments. He also adds that PG&E has now installed over 600 "sectionalizers," protective devices that automatically isolate a faulted section of line from the rest of the system, on distribution lines, which will allow the company to be more precise when shutting down certain divisions — avoiding leaving entire swaths of a county without power if they don't have to.
In addition to the sectionalizers, PG&E currently has at least thirty helicopters and two airplanes that are equipped with infrared cameras to inspect lines and ensure effective, timely shutoffs and power restoration; the company’s goal is to have power restored within 12 hours after PSPS shutoffs.
Nevertheless: there’s never been a more confusing time to weigh whether or not to light a candle when in a blackout… being that, you know, certain ones supposedly exacerbate toxic indoor air conditions.
To keep up-to-date with impending PSPS events, bookmark the following odiously long URL: pge.com/en_US/safety/emergency-preparedness/natural-disaster/wildfires/public-safety-power-shutoff. There, you'll find information on what to expect from a PSPS event, what conditions they’re most likely to happen in, and what zipcodes are affected when one’s in motion.
Image: Dan Dennis