“PG&E faces especially significant wildfire challenges due to the size and geography of its service area,” the utility said, noting that its roughly 70,000-square-mile service area contains “substantially more” area with high fire threat than the service territories of California’s two other utilities combined.
Critics say PG&E hasn’t moved quickly enough.
“PG&E clearly hasn’t made its system safe,” state Sen. Jerry Hill, whose district lost power, told the Los Angeles Times. “These shutdowns are supposed to be surgical. But shutting down power to 800,000 people in 31 counties is by no means surgical.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) wrote to his 1.5 million Twitter followers that the blackouts are needed “to protect communities against the real threat of wildfires due to existing weather conditions.”
“Our first priority is to protect people and to ensure that communities are safe,” Newsom wrote.
But many of PG&E’s customers, including some wildfire victims, appeared less concerned about wildfire than going days or weeks without electricity. Local officials said the blackouts could displace thousands, including elderly and medically dependent people, and could have a rippling effect on Northern California’s economy.
Yesterday afternoon, PG&E cautioned customers who rely on electric or battery-powered medical devices such as breathing machines, home oxygen or dialysis that it was “critical that you have a plan in place for an extended power outage.”
Few seemed to know what that meant as the blackouts began. Others questioned whether PG&E was trying to protect customers or its shareholders from future liability from power line-caused fires.
“These outages are for your protection, more than the public’s! You’re covering your assets!” one PG&E customer posted to Twitter under the hashtag #poweroutages.
State Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican who represents Paradise, said in a statement that the shutoff is “unacceptable.”
“PG&E’s decision to protect itself from liability at the expense of hardworking Californians will not be tolerated. … Millions without electricity is what a third world country looks like, not a state that is the 5th largest economy in the world,” he added.
But Patrick McCallum, a lobbyist with Up From the Ashes, a group representing 29,000 victims of recent fires, said many residents would rather lose power than lose their lives.
“It is not fun to not have electricity,” and it’s an issue for hospitals and schools, he said. “Any of us that almost died as we did in the Tubbs Fire would far rather have them power down.”
Meanwhile, fire risk in Northern California jumped from “moderate” to “high” yesterday, a troubling sign as fire season advances into fall, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Southeastern California, from Santa Barbara to the Mexico border, was expected to see high-risk conditions today and Friday, the center predicted.
The high-risk areas take in three of the state’s largest cities—Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, all with more than 1 million people—as well as San Francisco.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news atwww.eenews.net.