A series of Public Safety Power Shutoffs by PG&E cast thousands of Northern California households into darkness and forced scores of Bay Area residents to find alternatives to home and work routines affected by power interruptions.
The utility, which has been under intense scrutiny after failures of its equipment were blamed for devastating fires in Napa and Paradise, announced several phases of shutoffs as a precaution due to gusty winds and high wildfire risk.
During the second phase, PG&E shut down power late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning to communities in and near the Peninsula, Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose, Santa Clara Valley and the Santa Cruz area. Parts of Contra Costa County were also heavily affected.
According to PG&E’s outage website, a round of outages began around 10:45 p.m. Wednesday, with customers in locations affected as far north as Pinole, as far west as Half Moon Bay, as far south as Morgan Hill and communities near Watsonville, and as far east as an area just south of Livermore and Walnut Creek.
Among the biggest cities and communities affected by the shutdown were Berkeley (3,537 customers), Oakland (13,365), San Jose (4,295) and Castro Valley (6,144). San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo tweeted early Thursday that approximately 15,000 homes in Almaden and Evergreen neighborhoods were without power.
The University of California at Berkeley and Evergreen Valley College in the southeast San Jose foothills confirmed they would be closed on Thursday.
PG&E officials provided no estimate as to when power would be restored and said it could be out for several days. Solar customers are also affected by the shutdown.
“When PG&E restores power, rooftop solar systems should re-engage automatically,” PG&E officials said in a statement. “Solar systems cannot be powered off a generator as the two technologies do not work together. Customers who have a home battery system paired with their solar system may generally have up to two hours of backup power, depending on the size of their battery.”
In an effort to help some residents cope with the inconvenience of the power outages, PG&E opened a “community resource center” with electricity and creature comforts in the parking lot of Merritt College in the Oakland hills Wednesday.
A large tent was set up to provide shade, air conditioning and bottled water. Inside, there were chairs and tables with electrical outlets so people could charge their phones and devices.
Nancy Safford, a resident of the Ridgemont neighborhood in Oakland, came to the center to get the latest information about the outage. She was unhappy with the phone number and website PG&E set up to disseminate information about the outage and said the utility hadn’t been effective at getting the word out.
“Their map is not accurate,” Safford said.
She was also upset with PG&E for what appeared to be a very chaotic handling of a potentially dangerous situation caused by inadequately maintained equipment.
“I understand the need for caution, but they also need to be more proactive in recognizing the impacts of their actions,” Safford said.
People across the state have voiced frustration after going to PG&E’s website for information about the outage, only to find that it was not functioning properly.
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, posted a Constituents Guide on Power Outages in the East Bay on Wednesday afternoon advising affected residents to consider staying with a friend where the power was still on and prepare for any health needs involving refrigeration of medication and power for medical devices.
Gov. Gavin Newsom also weighed in on the power shutoffs this week, saying during an Oakland news conference on Tuesday that the estimated 800,000 customers across California who are being affected should be “outraged” and “infuriated.”
But Newsom said the power shutoff “was anticipated many months ago and this is the (utility) industry’s best practice.”
“The determination of whether or not to do this is based on a number of factors,” including intense winds, low humidity and the areas that are near to windy areas,” Newsom said, adding that it is up to PG&E based on “what’s in the best interest of their customers in partnership and consultation with the Office of Emergency Services, CalFire and experts in this field.”
Newsom said, “This is all about public safety and saving lives. This is part of something we all knew was likely and would occur many months ago when PG&E finally woke up to their responsibility to keep people safe.”
However, the governor said the power shutoff “is not how things should work in the (utility) industry.” He said, “None of us are happy about this.”
The governor noted that PG&E’s infrastructure is “antiquated” and needs to be upgraded. He said he hopes that process can begin next June once PG&E emerges from bankruptcy.
PG&E officials said the company does not reimburse customers for losses during shutdown events “as power will be shut off for safety when gusty winds and dry conditions, combined with a heightened fire risk, threaten a portion of the electric system.”
Despite the fact that reimbursement is unlikely, PG&E officials said customers can file claims at any time using its website. Claims are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.