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PG&E Begins Largest-Ever Intentional Outage

Photo by Jinyang Liu on Unsplash

UPDATE: SATURDAY, OCT. 26, 10:00 p.m. ...  The latest weather forecasts have led Pacific Gas & Electric to expand its intentional power shutoff to an additional 90,000 customers in 38 California counties. That means as many as 2.8 million Californians have had their electricity cut off to prevent the possibility of high winds blowing trees into the utility's transmission equipment and triggering wildfires.

PG&E says that by 10:00 Saturday night, it has started a Public Safety Power Shutoff across most of its service area. That includes much of Shasta, Siskiyou, Humboldt, Trinity, Mendocino and Tehama Counties. Among the areas listed as affected are Redding, Whiskeytown, Anderson, Red Bluff, Fort Bragg, Eureka and Arcata.

The high winds are expected to last until late Monday. PG&E says it must wait till the winds have died down, then inspect thousands of miles of power lines and other utility equipment for damage before turning the power back on. The utility says it could well be Monday evening or later before power is restored to much of the affected area.

According to PG&E's estimates, well over 20,000 cutomers with medical needs that require electricity are among those losing power. The utility is opening more than 70 Community Resource Centers where customers can find water, phone charging stations and air conditioned seating in outage areas.

For more information on the outage and locations of available resources, go to PG&E's website.

UPDATE: FRIDAY, OCT. 25, 4:00 p.m. ... Pacific Gas & Electric says a potential "historic wind event"will likely lead to the utility shutting off power to 850,000 homes and businesses across California starting Saturday. 

The Public Safety Power Shutoff is expected to impact portions of 36 counties, including Humboldt, Mendocino, Shasta and Tehama. Forecast winds as high as 70 miles per hour raise the risk of downed power lines or other damage to electrical transmission equipment sparking a wildfire in hot, dry conditions.

PG&E expects to begin notifying customers of impending shutoffs in their area Friday and into Saturday. The outage could well last past the weekend into Monday.

ORIGINAL POST: FRIDAY, OCT. 25, 5:00 a.m. ... California utility PG&E reported Thursday night that it had restored power to nearly all the 178,000 homes and businesses it had cut off Wednesday to prevent wildfires. But the company warned a windstorm forecast for this weekend could result in yet another major intentional outage. 

PG&E officials told a press conference that, as winds died down yesterday in the North Bay and Sierra Foothills, utility crews had quickly begun inspecting equipment and turning the power back on. As of 9 p.m., 93 percent of customers had power again.

But company meteorologist Scott Strenfel said an approaching wind storm packing gusts up to 80 miles per hour was likely to hit Northern California on Saturday.

"We do think it will be the strongest offshore wind event this season by a large margin," he said. "And if models are correct, possibly the strongest offshore winds that we’ve seen in years."

Strenfel said the two previous wind storms this month have left forest fuels dryer – and more vulnerable to wildfire.

CEO and President Bill Johnson said PG&E is preparing to initiate another Public Safety Power Shutoff in at least parts of eight of the nine zones in its service area, including areas as far north as Humboldt County.

"We're preparing -- and preparing with our communities and state agencies -- for a large-scale shutoff that has the potential to be on the same order as the one on OCtober 9th, but ogf a longer duration," he said

Officials say they’re monitoring the forecast and may start notifying customers Friday of another shutoff that could last through the weekend.

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.