It’s that time of year, as the Napa and Sonoma fires have knocked out some 37,000 homes’ power, planned outages hit another 65,000 homes in the Sierras, and even Oakland and SF have a few areas without power.
Wildfire distress and anxiety rapidly returned to our lives in a big way this weekend, as the Napa County Glass Fire merged with the Shady Fire and Boyson Fire, forcing mass evacuations and and plenty of wine country households to lose their power Sunday night. The PG&E power outages are dotting nearly every northern California county as of Monday afternoon, as you can see in the graphic below, though some areas are hit terribly hard. The Chronicle’s headline that 37,000 households in Sonoma and Napa Counties are currently without power only tells part of the story, as further in the article we see that “Separately, the utility had also planned 65,000 shut-offs Sunday and Monday as a measure to prevent lines from sparking fires across its huge service territory.”
So the real number is currently closer to 100,000 households without power across northern California. As seen in the PG&E current outage map above (and hey, at least it’s not crashing like it did last year), most of the outages are Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) intended to mitigate fire risk. And the largest numbers of these are not in the greater Bay Area, but east and north of Sacramento in Butte, El Dorado, and Yuba Counties.
And remember, PG&E doesn’t count by people affected, they count by customers affected. One customer could represent a household of six or more people. The tally also could include care facilities, medical centers, or other critical service providers that really kind of need electricity.
Massive power outage in Oakland: the entire flatlands & foothills south of Fruitvale Ave. and north of Seminary Ave. According to PG&E's website, 5,000+ customers without power. Power is expected to be restored at 11:45 pm. This is not a PSPS (Public Safety Power Shutoff). pic.twitter.com/22xr53i58j— Sarah Belle Lin (@SarahBelleLin) September 28, 2020
But both Oakland and San Francisco are experiencing some outages too. The current Hayes Valley and downtown Oakland outages are expected to be resolved before 3 p.m., but Milpitas, Palo Alto, and San Jose are experiencing more widespread outages. Obviously this is nothing compared to what people in Calistoga, Santa Rosa, and St. Helena are going through right now, but it does ominously portend that we might be in for another very difficult October.
NEW: Shares of PG&E dropped over 7% today in the wake of the Glass and Shady wildfires in the Napa Valley, though the cause of the fires hasn’t been determined. https://t.co/LrDl7v1ePP— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) September 28, 2020
It seems a cruel and callous thing to care what PG&E’s stock price is when likely thousands of people are currently evacuated with no idea if they have lost their homes. But that stock price will play a role in the continued possibility of a public takeover, which may still happen, even though PG&E is technically no longer bankrupt. And so for those of us rooting against the utility’s continued existence as currently constructed, Seeking Alpha slams PG&E’s stock prospects, noting the company “literally has problems keeping the lights on today,” and “As a long term investor, I will look elsewhere.”
⚡OUTAGE MAP: Check our regularly updated power outage map to see if your home may be impacted by shutoffs as wildfires continue https://t.co/01Ljppm3zs And here's what you need to know if your power is shut off: https://t.co/J1d8SdOXp4 @KQEDnews— KQED Science (@KQEDscience) September 28, 2020
It does not take an observational genius to realize that California wildfire season is starting earlier and ending later every year. Last year, the dreaded combination of wildfires and massive blackouts went right up to the end of October. Extend that another week this year, and you have a possible triple-whammy of wildfires, power outages, and November 3 election polling places possibly operating without electricity.