SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — With state investigators blaming PG&E power lines for last year’s series of deadly wildfires, the utility now says it’ll cut power during extreme weather using a map the Public Utilities Commission approved noting extreme fire threat areas.
Some viewers are concerned this plan creates a whole new set of risks.
“The goal is to reduce the risk of wildfires,” said PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Merlo, who acknowledges the utility only wants to cut power as a last resort for public safety.
PG&E points to climate change, saying extreme weather is the new norm in California. The utility says it has a wildfire safety operations center staffed 24-7 evaluating temperatures, wind, humidity, dry brush and real time observations from crews in the field. While PG&E would not share the exact criteria it’s using, it says it plans to give customers anywhere from one to 48 hours’ notice through phone calls, texts or email addresses customers provide.
PG&E says this will also affect some people living outside “extreme fire threat” districts in “elevated” threat areas also noted on the state map if they live on the same circuit. The utility says it’s already mailed letters to anyone who may be impacted, but you can also look up your address on its site where you can also update your contact information.
If you are in one of these threat zones, PG&E says you should already have a plan in case it cuts your power during extreme fire weather.
“Some of those things could include backup generation. They should be looking in advance of that notice,” Merlo said. “They could also look at staying with family or friends.”
Linda from Nevada City contacted CBS13 raising the issue that she afford transportation, a generator or to go without air conditioning. She’s also worried about losing groceries when the power goes out. She says cellphone service is also spotty where she lives and worries she won’t get the alert when her power is about to be cut. That, she says, would leave her without a way to communicate after the power is off.
We brought those concerns to Merlo.
Kurtis: When you lose power, a lot of these people are going to lose their ability to communicate. Isn’t that raising a whole new issue?
Merlo: We understand the difficulties that come with shutting the power off. It will only be as a last resort, and in the interest of public safety when extreme weather conditions occur.
Kurtis: Is this the lesser of two evils?
Merlo: We’re really working to reduce the risk of wildfires and this is one of the ways we’re trying to do it.”
Kurtis: PG&E understands this raises a whole new list of risks?
Considering PG&E’s plan to cut power is to keep its own equipment from sparking fires, we asked the utility if it plans to reimburse people for losses, like lost groceries, a hotel stay or the cost of fuel. The company responded by email with this statement.
We will not be reimbursing customers for losses as we are shutting off power for safety due to extreme fire danger conditions. It’s important for all customers living or working in a high fire-threat area to have an emergency plan to be prepared for any extended outages due to extreme weather.
PG&E says it is working with local agencies on how to handle customers needing power for life-saving measures, like oxygen dependency. The utility encourages people in the foothills to maintain a copper landline and have a phone that doesn’t require power so they can call out, even in a power outage.