Thursday, 14 November, 2019

PG&E shuts off power, Santa Maria on the list

Undergrounding Power lines PG&E could conduct a “public safety power shutoff” across most of Northern California this week
Travis Berry | 11 October, 2019, 00:26

PG&E notified OES today that parts of Humboldt County may see power shutoffs as a result of transmission line shutoffs in California's Central Valley, due to high winds raising the risk of wildfires.

Never before has a utility planned such a widespread shutoff affecting so many customers at once to avoid a wildfire in California.

Hundreds of thousands of California households - that could include millions of people - are reportedly without power after the state's largest utility provider chose to cut electricity in specific areas of the state in an effort to prevent wildfires. Strong winds were expected to prompt any shutdowns between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, SDG&E said.

Retirees John and Greta Maltbie say they prepared for a widespread power blackout meant to prevent wildfires in California by buying bottled water, getting cash and filling their vehicle with gas.

The Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) was implemented in two phases - and a third is still being considered, though it would only impact about 4,000 customers.

As a result the largest utility company in the United States, issued the warning along with recommendations urging resident to unplug or turn off appliances to avoid damage caused by power surges.

Climate change, years of drought, and the construction of houses and communities in wildland areas have all contributed to the spate of intense and deadly fires in California in recent years, experts say. The utility has agreed to pay billions of dollars in damages.

The Berkeley Seismological Lab's data center, which collects data from geophysical stations throughout Northern California, was created to be prepared for power outages due to earthquakes, says operations manager Peggy Hellweg in an email to The Scientist.

Before the fire even broke out, much of northern California was facing life without electricity or gas for as many as five to seven days, after the utility cut power to an unprecedented swath of the state as a preventive measure against wildfires. BART has portable generators at certain stations and will have personnel monitoring the generators, a Twitter thread said. Some school districts in the power outage area, like Berkeley, said they planned to stay open Wednesday but told parents to stay tuned.

School officials canceled classes Wednesday in anticipation of the shutoff.

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PG&E filed for bankruptcy earlier this year after the utility was found liable for igniting multiple fires.

The shutoffs are a precaution due to a forecasted severe weather event that could contribute to wildfire, according to PG&E.

"This is a recipe for explosive fire growth, if a fire starts", the weather service said. It's not clear if we need to pack for a week and go out of town or what to do.

The National Weather Service has issued a series of Red Flag Warnings for large areas of northern California from Wednesday to Thursday.

The outages come as a way to reduce the risk of wildfire, as winds - which contribute to blazes - pick up throughout the state.

'It could take several days to fully restore power after the weather passes and safety inspections are completed'. "We don't know how long", Tianna Pasche of Oakland said before her area was powered down. "This decision ... was really focused on ensuring that we're continuing to maintain the safety of our customers and our communities".

Gov. Gavin Newsom said PG&E should have been working on making its power system sturdier and more weatherproof.

California has suffered a series of deadly wildfires across the state in the last few years, including the Camp Fire, the deadliest in the state's history, which killed 85 people and almost destroyed the town of Paradise.

Several lawsuits and other requests for compensation from wildfire victims that amounted to billions of US dollars forced the embattled the company to claim bankruptcy protection early this year.

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