PG&E could shut off power in Northern California due to fire danger

PG&E could shut off power in Northern California due to fire danger

PG&E could shut off power in Northern California due to fire danger

Ahead of a weeklong heat wave that will scorch Sacramento and much of Northern California with sweltering temperatures, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is warning that a critical fire danger may prompt the first public safety power shutoffs of the year in several areas to prevent the utility’s equipment from sparking wildfires.

On Sunday, officials with the Oakland-based company said their forecasters were predicting an “elevated” risk of outages in parts of eight Northern California counties: Colusa, Glenn, Lake, Napa, Shasta, Solano, Tehama and Yolo. The power outages are the first wildfire safety blackouts carried out this year by PG&E, which has come under constant criticism for engineering power outages in recent years to protect itself from fires caused by its equipment.

The affected areas and timing of the power outages coincide with the National Weather Service’s red flag warning, which was issued for a wide swath of Northern California between 11 p.m. Monday and 8 p.m. Tuesday. Those dangerous conditions create a heightened risk of damage to the power grid that could spark fires fueled by dry vegetation.

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PG&E officials were not immediately available for comment Sunday.

Where will the power outages occur?

High fire risk conditions are expected to continue through the July 4 holiday, as Sacramento and the surrounding region could reach 110 degrees on Wednesday. The weather service also issued an excessive heat warning for the entire Sacramento Valley between 11 a.m. Monday and 8 p.m. Saturday as temperatures are expected to top 105 degrees over the weekend.

While officials did not give a specific number of homes and businesses that would be affected by the so-called PSPS, maps provided by the utility showed outages were planned in far western Yolo County, including Winters and homes south of Putah Creek, as well as in Rumsey, Guinda and around the Cache Creek area.

Other areas that could be subject to a power outage include homes on the western edge of the Valley west of Willows, Orland, Corning, Red Bluff and Anderson. A large area of ​​potential outage also surrounds the Redding area, along Highway 299 and in the Bella Vista and Palo Cedro areas.

Conditions ripe for fires, says PG&E

PG&E officials said in a weather update Sunday that in addition to high temperatures, “there will also be a period of blustery northerly winds primarily in the northern and western Sacramento Valley and adjacent foothills” beginning Monday. at night.

Weather service forecasters and PG&E officials say breezes in some locations along the western tier of the Valley, from northern Solano County to Red Bluff, could gust as high as 30 mph, “although localized gusts of 35 to 40 mph will be possible,” PG&E said.

PG&E forecasts are particularly concerned about conditions on the ground, noting that “the grass crop has cured at lower elevations and dead fuel moisture values ​​are at seasonally dry levels.” That means the combination of hot air, strong winds and tinder-dry grasses common in the Valley and foothills could spark fast-spreading fires.

The utility said in its weather update that it has already switched 624 of 788 circuits in affected areas to “enhanced power line safety settings,” which adjust the sensitivity of equipment to shut down faster if a problem is detected. These buffers, according to PG&E, allow lines to be automatically disabled “within a tenth of a second” if vegetation or flames interfere with downed lines or overheated transformers. Officials touted in a report to state regulators that such equipment settings reduced its equipment ignitions by 68% in 2022.

PG&E blamed for past wildfires

In recent years, PG&E has imposed planned power shutoffs in the face of extreme weather that drives wildfires. The utility’s equipment has been blamed for sparking some of the worst blazes in state history, including the 2018 Camp Fire that devastated Paradise, and PG&E Corp. has been found liable for billions of dollars in damages.

Since 2017, the utility has been blamed for starting more than 30 wildfires, blazes that have destroyed more than 23,000 homes and businesses and killed more than 100 people.

PG&E customers enrolled in its Medical Baseline program who have not verified they received notification of potential shutoffs will be visited at home by a PG&E employee when possible, the utility has said in connection with past shutoffs. Officials said priority will be given to customers who rely on electricity for equipment essential to their survival.

The utility is also expected to open dozens of “community resource centers” on Tuesday in areas without power, allowing customers to cool off with air conditioning, get free bottled water and snacks and charge their phones.

Restoring power to affected customers would likely take 12 daylight hours once the weather has been declared “clear.” PG&E crews must inspect de-energized lines to ensure they were not damaged during the wind event, according to the news release.

More information about PSPS and how to receive alerts is available on the PG&E website.

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Daniel Hunt is the local news editor for The Sacramento Bee; he joined The Bee in 2013.