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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

"The reality is that we want to protect people. We want to make sure people are safe. This is what PG&E thinks is in the best interest of their customers and ultimately for this region and the state," the governor said.

"It is a massive inconvenience," he added. "No one wants to see this happen. But it is a public safety issue."

Wara compared it to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the rolling blackouts Californians experienced during the energy crisis of the early 2000s. He said while those events may have triggered blackouts that involved more customers, they weren't on the order of days like what PG&E is saying could happen here.

"This kind of thing happens because of natural disasters, and here we're having an unnatural disaster to avoid an even worse natural disaster."

Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), whose district may be affected by the blackouts, acknowledged there is a fire danger requiring some shutting down of power, but he called the extent of the possible outage troubling.

"I think it is excessive," said Hill, a longtime critic of the utility. "PG&E clearly hasn't made its system safe. These shut-downs are supposed to be surgical. But shutting down power to 800,000 people in 31 counties is by no means surgical."

 

Hill, who convened a recent hearing on the Public Utility Commission's oversight of PG&E, called on the state agency to do a "root cause" analysis of the power shut-downs.

"This cannot be something that can be acceptable nor long-term," Hill said. "This is third world, and we are not."

It also makes economic sense for the utility to make its grid more resilient, Wara said, because it's losing money when it has turned off the power.

Once the fire weather subsides, PG&E employees will check the grid in person and electronically before determining if it is safe to turn back on, a company official said.

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