PLACERVILLE (CBS13) — With high winds expected to return to the Sierra Foothills next week, residents are worried the weather could fuel another voluntary PG&E power outage.
Last week’s planned outage left 60,000 PG&E customers across Northern California in the dark, many of them for up to 48 hours while PG&E said it was inspecting the lines before re-energizing them.
PG&E voluntarily cut power to residents amid windy conditions to try and stem the risk of wildfires. PG&E could be on the hook for billions of dollars in damage done to homes if its power lines or equipment are linked to the cause of the fires.
So what’s PG&E’s plan this time?
The company tells CBS13 it’s not planning on shutting off power when the winds pick up again Monday.
Spokeswoman Brandi Merlo said, “Our 24-7 wildfire safety operations center and our in-house meteorologists continually monitor weather conditions. At this time, nothing indicates the need to initiate a public safety power shut off in the next few days.”
But in downtown Placerville, questions are already swirling. Just this week, city officials passed a resolution condemning PG&E for shutting off the power.
“It was bad, I don’t know how else to say it,” said City Manager Cleve Morris.
Morris claims it was so bad, PG&E didn’t even give his own fire and police departments any warning that the city was about to go dark.
“If they’re just throwing a switch, you should be able to let us know within 30 minutes,” he said.
PG&E had discussed the possibility of shutting off power in many parts of Northern California, but many residents say they didn’t hear about the company’s final decision to cut their power until the hours before it happened.
One resident we spoke with in Pollock Pines said she got the call 15 minutes before the lights went out. She had to rush to her garage to get a backup oxygen tank for herself since her machine relies on electricity.
Morris isn’t sure whether PG&E will cut power when the winds pick up again next week. But the city’s gearing up anyway. Generators are fueled up and ready to go. And so are business owners.
“It’s just frustrating, you know,” said Ben Carter.
Carter says his downtown cafe, Heyday took a major hit, with thousands of dollars in lost food and business, not to mention the confusion.
“I’m here trying to salvage whatever I can salvage yet there’s no sense being made because literally I look across the street and they all have power,” he said.
PG&E maintains it turned off power to anyone in an area where fire risk was high. It was the first use of its public safety power shutoff program, launched in response to last October’s deadly wine country wildfires.
“How come it’s safe over there and not here?” Carter said.
PG&E says it’s because of the way the circuits are built.
So what then can the company do differently in the future? It remains unclear.
PG&E promises the blackout is still under review, despite recent pressure from State Senator Ted Gaines (R- El Dorado Co.), who last week called for a broader investigation.
“They ought to take a look at the conditions for which permission was granted,” Gaines told CBS13 last week.
And now, this small town in the foothills is lighting a small fire under the utility, before they flip the switch.
“They should be able to keep us updated,” said Morris.
For now, PG&E says its focused on getting its review to the CPUC, the state’s utility regulator. And it has 10 days from the time the last customer’s power was restored. That was on Oct.16th so the review could be due as early as Friday.