As many as 209,000 customers may lose power in California this week as the state’s largest utility company prepares for a second planned outage in an effort to prevent wildfires.
This decision comes as strong winds are forecast to enter the region, which the company says could damage its equipment and cause fire-inducing sparks.
“Power shutoffs are one tool we have to keep the community safe and to combat this risk,” Bill Johnson, president and CEO of PG&E said at a press conference on Monday evening. “We do understand that it creates hardship and comes with its own potential safety issue for others, but again we’ve seen catastrophic wildfire recently ... and we’re just determined to not let that happen again.”
The high winds are expected to last until Thursday afternoon. Anyone who loses power can expect it to be restored within 24-48 hours after the storm has passed, Johnson said.
Earlier this month, PG&E cut power to en estimated 2 million residents, or 800,000 customers, in a similar effort to reduce the risk of wildfires. The blackout had been described as the largest preventative shutdown in the state’s history.
This decision follows PG&E’s energy unit declaring bankruptcy in January after it faced lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in claims from victims of wildfires ― including the deadly Camp fire ― that were sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) last week called the shutoffs “unacceptable” and said the state’s Public Utilities Commission will conduct a review of the company’s “planning implementation, and decision-making process failures.”
“California will hold PG&E accountable to make serious changes ― changes that will prioritize the safety of Californians and modernizing its equipment,” he said on Twitter.
During the last outage, PG&E faced additional outrage when its website crashed, leaving many customers completely in the dark on updates and additional information and support.
Johnson said it has added extra digital capacity to its website and that there are 380 call center agents available to assist, though PG&E reported that its website was down for nearly an hour on Tuesday morning.