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PG&E Moving Forward With Cutting Power To 179,000 Customers, Mostly In Sierra Foothills

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio
A patron sits at Szabo Vineyards Tasting Room in historic Nevada City with the lights off following the PG*E power shut off earlier this month.

Pacific Gas & Electric Company has started to shut off power to some customers in planned outages that will affect nearly 180,000 customers throughout portions of Northern California, including parts of Mendocino and Tehama Counties.

The utility says the shutoffs affecting about 450,000 people are expected to begin around 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Sierra Foothills, followed soon after by blackouts north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Then, at around 1 a.m. Thursday, customers in affected areas of San Mateo and Kern counties are also expected to lose power.

In all, the power will be cut to portions of 17 counties. The utility lowered a previous estimate that 190,000 customers would be without power.

PG&E says the shutoffs are needed to prevent wildfires caused by downed or fouled power lines as the National Weather Service forecasts gusty winds amid hot, dry weather.

It comes two weeks after the utility cut power to around 2 million people across 34 counties in one of its largest preventative outages.

On Tuesday PG&E CEO Bill Johnson urged residents upset at the utility for the blaockouts not to vent their anger at PG&E crews.

"I ask you to remember this — these people are trying to turn your lights on, they're trying to help you, they're trying to keep you safe," Johnson said "They are your neighbors, they live in your communities. So please do not direct your anger to the people doing their best to manage this event safely."

That blackout has led to intense criticism for the utility from customers, regulators and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Speaking in front of the state Public Utilities Commission last week, Johnson said power shutoffs could continue for another decade as the utility works to upgrade its equipment.

Earlier this week, he said more and more of the company's service area is considered at high risk for wildfires.

"Three times more of our service area is at high risk of fire than was the case seven years ago, about 15 percent in 2012, more than 50 percent today," Johnson said. "And that service area is roughly 70,000 square miles, so that is a big area."

Johnson said the customers who may be affected this week will get a final notification eight to 12 hours before their power is turned off.

PG&E began a policy of cutting power to prevent fires in October of last year, one month before the Camp Fire killed 84 people in Butte County. That fire has since been blamed on PG&E equipment, which the utility decided not to shut off in the hours preceding it.

The National Weather Service is forecasting strong winds and dry conditions starting Wednesday into Thursday, with extremely dry conditions through Friday. Another round of dry windy weather is possible Sunday through early next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 Capital Public Radio