PG&E Files Report on September's Preemptive Power Shutdown

In its official accounting of the first two planned power shutdowns last month, PG&E acknowledges mistakes but also tells regulators the shutoffs allowed it to safely repair wind-driven tree limb damage to its system in Oroville, Nevada City and Berry Creek in Butte county.

The company, in a report filed with state regulators Thursday, several days late of the 10 day deadline, identified four near miss events. Crews found that a wind-blown branch damaged a pole-mounted transformer in Oroville after the shutoff in the Sierra Foothills on Sept. 23. Inspections following the second shutoff on Sept. 25 found tree limbs had hit two different power lines in Nevada City and another power line in Berry Creek in Butte county.

The company did not say what risk the damage could have posed had the power been on, however, and it did not say why those trees had not been trimmed as part of its much touted intensified tree-line clearance effort this year.

PG&E’S report stressed the company texted, called or emailed targeted customers, and also knocked on the doors of people with medical conditions who depend on electrical equipment for survival if they could not be reached before the two shutoffs.

The blackout areas the company identified based on wind, low humidity and other factors included Butte, Nevada, El Dorado, Placer, and Yuba counties as well as parts of Sonoma, Napa, and Lake counties.

The North Bay was spared in the first, so-called Alpha shutoff, leaving 26,121 customers in the Sierra without power until all 1,350 miles of line involved had been checked.

The second, or Bravo shutoff started on Sept. 25, and left 49,264 customers without power until 2,400 miles of lines were patrolled. Power was restored by 11 a.m. on Sept. 26.

The recent shutoffs this week have sparked outrage from public officials, including state Sen. Jerry Hill, who has called on state regulators to launch an investigation into PG&E decision making.

But in the first wave last month, the company stressed in its report that it “communicated continuously with state and local officials” during consecutive shutoffs, adding that the “complexity” of the challenge “proved a good test for PG&E's coordination and communication.”

PG&E said it brought in a top safety official with the state’s CPUC, a coordinator with the governor’s office of emergency services as well as a Sonoma county official to view the process, adding that the representatives attended one decision making meeting.

The company said there were take-aways from the first two shutoffs, saying it could better narrow the impacted areas and do more to timely notify both state officials and customers of its decisions.

“PG&E acknowledges the balance between the potential for catastrophic wildfire and the disruptive personal and economic impact a PSPS event has on our customers,” the company said in its report to regulators. “It is with the utmost concern that we err on the side of caution (i.e. a [shutoff] event) to protect our customers knowing that some notified will not ultimately experience a shut-off. PG&E did not return our call for comment on its report to state regulators.

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