Blackout Round 2? Californians Brace for Possible Outages

Hundreds of thousands of California residents braced for another possible power outage as the state’s two largest utilities warned that a return of dangerous fire weather could prompt shut-offs across the state.

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The warning from Pacific Gas & Electric about a possible blackout Wednesday in Northern California prompted a feeling of resignation among residents and business owners and renewed rushes to stock up on emergency supplies.

"I think it’s not panic per se, just 'Eh, we gotta do this AGAIN?'" said Kim Schefer, manager of Village True Value Hardware in Santa Rosa.

Schefer was busy Tuesday directing customers to gas cans and batteries as they prepared for what many see as a costly, frustrating new routine.

It would be the second blackout in two weeks for much of the state.

PG&E cut power to more than 2 million people across the Bay Area in rolling blackouts from Oct. 9-12, paralyzing parts of the region in what was the largest deliberate blackout in state history. Schools and universities canceled classes and many businesses were forced to close.

PG&E gave 24-hour notice Tuesday to roughly 184,000 customers that it could begin a new round of precautionary shut-offs in 17 counties mostly in the Sierra foothills and the North Bay. The decision to shut off power is expected to be made Wednesday. If implemented, the blackouts would begin Wednesday evening and last about 48 hours, the utility said.

Here's a look at how the Bay Area counties — Napa, San Mateo and Sonoma — could be impacted by the potential shutoffs:

  • Napa County: 7,488 customers in Angwin, Calistoga, Deer Park, Lake Berryessa, Oakville, Pope Valley, Rutherford, and St. Helena.
  • San Mateo County: 372 customers in La Honda, San Gregorio, Woodside, and unincorporated San Mateo County.
  • Sonoma County: 26,845 customers in Annapolis, Boyes Hot Springs, Cloverdale, Fulton, Geyserville, Glen Ellen, Guerneville, Healdsburg, Kenwood, Larkfield, Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Windsor, and Stewarts point.

The Santa Rosa School District on Tuesday announced planned schedule adjustments for Wednesday and closures for Thursday at four of its schools.

Meanwhile Southern California Edison said it could cut power later in the week to about 132,000 customers in six counties

The utilities say it’s concerned that winds forecast to top 60 mph could throw branches and debris into power lines or topple them, sparking wildfires.

In the Bay Area, the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning for much of the region beginning at different times Wednesday. Here's a look at when the warning will be in effect for the various Bay Area counties:

  • Solano County: 8 a.m. Wednesday — 4 p.m. Thursday
  • Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties: 12 p.m. Wednesday — 4 p.m. Thursday
  • Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties: 3 p.m. Wednesday — 4 p.m. Thursday
  • San Mateo County: 7 p.m. Wednesday — 4 p.m. Thursday

At Murphy’s Irish Pub in Sonoma, co-owner Dermot Coll groaned at the thought of another power outage. The watering hole kept its doors open during the last 48-hour shut-off, but it wasn’t easy because generator power to the walk-in coolers kept failing.

"We made it work, but it was a headache," Coll said. "We kept saying, 'Is this even worth it?'"

Coll said he fears that precautionary blackouts will become a regular occurrence now that fire season in California is a year-round phenomenon.

"It’s going to be an annual event, I’m afraid. I hate to say it, but I believe it’s probably true," he said.

PG&E has cast the blackouts as a matter of public safety to prevent the kind of blazes that have killed scores of people in California over the past several years, destroyed thousands of homes, and ran up tens of billions of dollars in claims that drove the company into bankruptcy.

California Gov. Gavin sent a sharply worded letter Tuesday to Bill Johnson, CEO of the utility, blaming the unprecedented mass outage earlier this month on the company’s failure to maintain and upgrade its equipment.

"I believe the unacceptable scope and duration of the previous outage — deliberately forcing 735,000 customers to endure power outages — was the direct result of decades of PG&E prioritizing profit over public safety," Newsom wrote, referring to the number of businesses and households affected, not the total number of people.

PG&E says the shutdowns are not about money.

The only goal "is to prevent a catastrophic wildfire," Johnson said in a Tuesday briefing.

A huge portion of California is under high fire risk amid unpredictable gusts and soaring temperatures this week. PG&E forecasters are also keeping an eye on another possible wind event that could lead to preventative blackouts over the weekend into early next week, Johnson said.

Southern California Edison said possible outages could start Thursday in Kern, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

In Sonoma, Coll said he dreads having to deal with another outage but said Murphy’s would likely stay open again.

"People were looking for somewhere to go," he said. "One day sitting at home in the dark is tolerable, but by day two you’re itching to get out of the house."

Customers used the opportunity to have a cold beer or two and complain about PG&E, he said.


Weber reported from Los Angeles. AP Writer Janie Har contributed from San Francisco.

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