PG&E Power Outage Expands in California: Live Updates


SAN FRANCISCO — About 800,000 electricity customers in Northern California were without power on Thursday after the state’s largest utility carried out the second phase of its intentional power cut.

Pacific Gas & Electric said extreme winds overnight forced the shutdown, which the utility organized to prevent equipment from sparking fires.

The second phase affected bedroom communities in the San Francisco Bay Area and added to the 500,000 customers who had already lost power earlier on Wednesday.

A fire after midnight in the town of Moraga, home to St. Mary’s College, prompted evacuations and burned around 50 acres but was brought under control before dawn.

Pacific Gas & Electric expects the weather to subside in most of its operation areas by noon on Thursday and will deploy a fleet of helicopters and more than 6,000 technicians to inspect the lines before they are brought back on.

Citing a weather forecast ideal for wildfires and staring down billions in potential liabilities from past blazes, PG&E decided sparks from its electrical equipment or a downed power line would pose a greater risk than grumbling customers.

But some residents and state officials felt the utility had overstepped.

State Senator Bill Dodd, a Democrat who represents northern counties of the Bay Area, said the situation was “beyond frustrating” in a statement on his website. “Public safety power shut-offs have a role to play when they’re needed to prevent massive wildfires,” he said. “However, many of my constituents are disturbed that the power was shut down before the winds started to pick up in the North Bay.”

“Sadly, poor performance by PG&E is par for the course, so it’s not surprising,” he added.

One police department poked fun at the utility’s less-than-ideal rollout, which included problems with its website and early maps that left some residents confused about whether they would be affected. The department, in Pleasanton, Calif., posted a fake outage map on Facebook, with the entire state scribbled out in red.

“Remain calm,” the post read. “Use your cellphone light to search frantically for the one flashlight you think you have in the house. It will be dead of course. Search for batteries.”

Others did not appear to share their sense of humor. California Highway Patrol said that it was investigating a report that a PG&E vehicle had been shot at in Colusa County, north of Sacramento.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that residents in the blackout areas had a right to be “outraged.”

But he stopped short of criticizing PG&E for the shut down.

“This is industry best practice,” he said of the decision to cut electricity. “This is just at a scale that we haven’t seen.”

The governor, who was speaking with reporters, said the state needed to do everything it could to avoid a recurrence of last year’s Camp fire, which killed 86 people.

There are still weeks left in fire season, he said.

“Remember, we are in the peak of it.”

Before the power went out on Wednesday, lines grew at gas stations across the Bay Area. And this being California, a queue had also formed at a row of Tesla superchargers in downtown Los Gatos.

“It’s the new world,” said Mira Wooten, who was charging her white, two-week-old Model 3. “Instead of lines for gas, there are lines for power.”

Gregory Hansen, who charged his blue Tesla sedan at the same station, was in Silicon Valley on business. The night before, he had charged his car at his home in the El Dorado Hills, east of Sacramento, right before the power went out.

You might grow up used to modern conveniences, Mr. Hansen said, “then all of a sudden, it’s like, ‘Well, holy crap, I guess maybe we need a generator, or maybe we should start buying more freeze-dried food.’”

The harvest season is in full swing in the Sacramento Valley, but the power outage has idled some processing operations.

Mariani Nut Company, a family business that runs many of the nut processing facilities around the city of Winters, said that 75 percent of its processing capacity had been taken out by the shutdown. Matt Mariani, a partner in the business who manages retail sales and marketing, said about 100 employees were not working on Wednesday because of the outage.

Mr. Mariani said the timing of the outages was disappointing, with the holiday season approaching and many large nut orders already in. Many farmers have concerns about spoilage.

“If they don’t get their products in and dried on time they could see some risks,” Mr. Mariani said.

Nearby, Elia Arce, the owner of the El Pueblo Meat Market and Taqueria, said she was forced to reduce her work force to three from 12 because of the blackouts.

She feared that meats, cheeses and other food items would spoil. “If this continues, we have to throw everything away,” Ms. Arce said.



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