PG&E Cutting Power to 150,000 Customers in New Mass Blackout

PG&E Corp. is moving forward on cutting power to about 150,000 customers starting early Wednesday in the latest mass blackout designed to keep its power lines from igniting wildfires.

The bankrupt utility is shutting off service to homes and businesses in parts of Northern California to keep live wires from sparking fires amid high winds, the company said in a twitter post Wednesday morning. The National Weather Service has posted for strong gusts across the region from 4 a.m. local time Wednesday to 7 a.m. Thursday.

The outage is the latest in a series of deliberate blackouts by PG&E that have provoked widespread outrage in California, triggering a state investigation and intensifying calls for a government takeover of the power giant. The company is taking extreme measures to prevent blazes from breaking out after its equipment ignited deadly fires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018. In January, it declared bankruptcy to deal with an estimated $30 billion in wildfire liabilities.

“We all know it’s not sustainable — it’s not where we want to be,” Andy Vesey, PG&E’s chief of utility operations, said of the shutoffs during a press conference late Tuesday. “But at this point in time, it’s the situation that we are faced with.”

While affecting several counties across Northern California, Wednesday’s shutoffs will pale in comparison to the mass blackouts PG&E carried out last month, which plunged millions of people into darkness for days.

The storm isn’t “as intense as the events we saw in October,” Vesey said.

Widespread winds will range from 15 to 30 miles per hour with higher gusts. Red flag warnings posted by the weather service mean the combination of dry air, gusting winds and parched landscape can lead to “extreme fire behavior.”

“Winds are already pretty strong over Northern California,” Patrick Burke, a senior branch forecaster with the U.S. Weather Prediction Center said by phone early Wednesday. “That means they will probably be strongest during the driest part of the day in a few hours.”

California has had little rain for months, and more than 81% of the state is abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The parched plants and soils, along with high winds, make fall one of the worst times for fires in the state.

The outages are expected to begin as early as 6 a.m. Wednesday for many customers, though some may not be impacted until around 4 p.m., the company said in a statement late Tuesday night.