California residents bracing for possibility of more blackouts due to high winds

Hundreds of thousands of Northern California residents are bracing for another round of widespread, deliberate blackouts after Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said it may need to proactively shut off power due to high winds.

The power company’s emergency operations center has been monitoring a dry, offshore wind event and may turn off power lines starting late Wednesday evening, PG&E said in a statement. About 209,000 customers, in 15 counties in the Sierra Foothills and the North Bay, likely would be affected by the blackouts, expected to extend more than 48 hours.

The announcement drew angry reactions from residents, ABC San Francisco station KGO reported.

“What PG&E is supposed to be doing is taking the billions of dollars we have been giving them and trimming the trees and taking care of the grid so we don’t have to do shutoffs in the first place,” Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco-based consumer advocacy organization, told KGO.

Heavy wind gusts caused more than 100 instances of serious damage and hazard on PG&E’s distribution and transmission lines during the last public safety power shutoff, or PSPS, event earlier this month, which afffected more than 2 million people.

The deadly Saddleridge Fire in Los Angeles County ignited on Oct. 10 near an electrical transmission line operated by Southern California Edison in Los Angeles’ northernmost neighborhood of Slymar. While the company shut down some of its power lines, the transmission line running through Sylmar had not been de-energized.

“The sole purpose of PSPS is to significantly reduce catastrophic wildfire risk to our customers and communities,” PG&E officials said in a statement. “We know that sustained winds above 45 mph are known to cause damage to the lower-voltage distribution system and winds above 50 mph are known to cause damage to higher-voltage transmission equipment.”

PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian told KGO that the power company is trying to fix the mistakes made in the last blackout by coordinating more efficiently with state and local officials. The company is also installing devices to divide the grid into smaller segments so blackouts will be targeted to smaller areas.

Sonoma County First District Supervisor Susan Gorin told KGO that PG&E should have started undergrounding lines and segmenting the transmission grids, as they have been doing in Southern California, “decades ago.”

“Where have they been?” Gorin asked.

On Friday, PG&E President and CEO Bill Johnson said the goal is to eliminate PSPS events within the next 10 years while speaking before the California Public Utilities Commission.

“It will take us some time to do that,” Johnson said.

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