With summer approaching and wildfire season upon California residents, Coastsiders are being asked to prepare for extended power outages. The state’s three major utility companies are planning to deactivate lines more frequently in extreme weather to come.
Earlier this month, the state’s largest energy companies coordinated a wildfire safety and awareness campaign. San Diego Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, and Pacifica Gas and Electric Co., are all taking part under the direction of the California Public Utilities Commission. The trio of utility companies say they will be proactive to prevent major wildfires. This after PG&E has been blamed for causing the deadly Camp Fire that killed over 80 people last year.
New plans mean that any of PG&E’s 5 million electric customers could have their power turned off, though the people living in high fire-threat areas are more likely to be affected, according to PG&E spokeswoman Andrea Menniti. Portions of the Coastside have been identified in the state’s fire threat map, showing they are in an elevated or extreme fire-threat area.
Several factors are considered to determine if and when power would be shut off by PG&E. These include a National Weather Service red flag warning, humidity levels at 20 percent or below, winds forecast at a sustained 25 mph or wind gusts in excess of 45 mph and conditions that include dry fuel.
“In terms of how often, we anticipate that a Public Safety Power Shutoff could occur several times a year in PG&E’s service area,” Menniti said. “Because the energy system relies on power lines working together to provide electricity across cities, counties and regions, your power may be shut off even if they do not live or work in an area experiencing high winds or other extreme weather conditions.”
Because of security concerns, Menniti said PG&E is not able to disclose connections that could make the Coastside more or less susceptible to shut-offs.
“It’s important for all customers to have an emergency plan to be prepared for any extended outages due to extreme weather or natural disasters,” Menniti said.
Once the weather patterns allow for power to be restored, PG&E crews will go into the service area for inspection. The company says power lines must be visually inspected across each and every mile for potential weather-related damage before they can be re-energized.
Menniti said if power is shut off, customers should expect it restored within 24 to 48 hours after the weather event passes. But for planning purposes, the company suggests preparing for outages that could last longer than 48 hours because weather patterns can last several hours or days.
This is not the first time PG&E has implimented its Public Safety Power Shut-off program. Last October, customers in the North Bay and Sierra Foothills were notified of a potential power shut-off. About 60,000 customers lost power temporarily.
Leading up to the decision to turn off power, portions of the North Bay region reported wind speeds over 60 mph and wind gusts of up to 70 mph. In the Sierra, wind speeds were about 20 to 35 mph but with gusts up to 55 mph.
“We learned a great deal from this experience and are continuing to gather feedback from our customers and communities, so we can continuously improve as we move forward,” Menniti said.
The program this year is expanding to include all electric lines that pass through high fire-threat areas, both distribution and transmission lines.
CalFire Battalion Chief Gary Silva stated he had received information from PG&E on the program but said, “I do not think we (on the Coastisde) deal with that severe of weather.”
However, he did refer locals to PG&E’s website for things they can do to prepare for any such event. This includes having one gallon of water per person in a household, nonperishable food, baby and pet food, flashlights, battery-powered radio, batteries, clothing, blankets, a first aid kit and important documents.
As for notifying customers in advance of a shut-off, PG&E stated customers would receive alerts in three installments, one 48 hours in advance, in 24 hours and just prior to the power outage. The alerts would be sent through automated calls, texts or emails. Customers are asked to update their contact information at pge.com/mywildfirealerts. PG&E is also asking city, county and emergency responders to provide preferred forms of communication so they can be included in notification.
PG&E is planning a community open house to explain the program in Half Moon Bay on Aug. 1. Details of the event will be advertised as the date gets closer, according to Menniti.