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Unprecedented power outages begin in California as winds bring critical fire danger

Joseph Serna, Jaclyn Cosgrove and Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Relief came in the form of an email, when city leaders alerted the community just after 3:30 p.m. that PG&E had indicated that Ukiah's electric system won't be affected by the planned outages. Local leaders did warn that, because extreme weather is expected, outages could still occur.

"People have been on pins and needles all day because of the uncertainty," said Diana Clarke, the senior center's executive director. "They don't know if they should go out and buy supplies, and especially with seniors, they don't have a lot of extra money."

The senior center provides residents with hot meals Monday through Friday and delivers meals to older residents who aren't able to leave their homes. On Tuesday, the center's outreach supervisor was busy calling people to tell them they weren't sure whether they would have electricity and thus be able to prepare meals for delivery, Clarke said.

There is a deep sense of frustration, and skepticism, in the community at the idea of losing power to protect them from wildfires, she said.

"PG&E should have been doing the proper maintenance for the last decade," Clarke said. "This wouldn't have been necessary (if they had), and I think that's what has got everyone so angry and frustrated with PG&E right now. This is a crisis of PG&E's making."

But it may also be the best option available as the utilities and the state face trade-offs between ensuring reliable power and the public's safety, said Michael Wara, director of Stanford University's climate and energy policy program.

 

"Power shut-offs in the face of really widespread dangerous fire weather, which is what we're confronting, may be the best thing we can do for the time being," Wara said. "In the long run, PG&E needs to fix its grid. And so does Edison ... so they can use power shut-offs as a more limited tool like a scalpel rather than the blunt instrument they have now."

Some state and local officials also have complained that utilities don't always give enough notice before turning off the power. And they have expressed concerns about communications and evacuations if the power is out, especially if traffic signals don't work and cellphone service is affected.

Caltrans announced it was closing multiple tunnels around the Bay Area as early as Tuesday evening because they require power to control traffic flow. Among them are the Caldecott Tunnel in Contra Costa County and the Tom Lantos Tunnels in Pacifica.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, at a bill signing ceremony in Oakland on Tuesday, defended PG&E's plans for the intentional power shutdowns.

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