Bracing for another round of PG&E outages; decision expected Wednesday

With planned power outages remaining a distinct possibility in Northern California, this week, the City of Santa Rosa is planning for blackouts to begin late afternoon Wednesday.

PG&E officials said at a Tuesday evening news conference there were no outages to announce, but were still monitoring service areas. A decision is expected to be made Wednesday morning.  As many as 184,000 customers in 17 counties could be impacted, but that figure is a downgrade from reports of 201,000 customers from a day earlier. 

Santa Rosa is making preparations to operate sewer and water services with generators, but there are concerns about traffic lights.

"Last time we had 39 traffic intersections without power and a significant number of traffic collisions and injury accidents. We are working to keep that from happening again," said assistant Santa Rosa Fire Marshall Paul Lowenthal.

But many businesses are preparing to go dark, for the second time this month.

For the owners of Betty's Fish & Chips on Sonoma Highway, preparing for power shutoffs is a little like Groundhog's Day. They are not happy with PG&E.

"I feel they slacked off and expect us to take the loss. I'm pretty upset about it," said restaurant co-owner Susan Corso.

Two weeks ago the popular restaurant closed for three days because of PG&E's public safety power shutoff plan. The plan is to reduce the threat of wildfires.

"I understand that people are not happy when their power is off," PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said at Tuesday's news conference.

PG&E plans to test a California Highway Patrol airplane equipped with infrared technology to inspect power lines in preparation for the dry, windy conditions. 

If useful, the aircraft could speed the process of getting the power back on by allowing line inspection to continue after dark.   

Earlier Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom demanded PG&E "ensure that as few people as possible" are impacted by outages and provide more 
information to customers.

"I continue to extend the technical assistance currently offered by the State of California to reduce the impacts of PSPS, including 
operational guidance from Cal OES, meteorological data from CALFIRE, and most recently, infrared-equipped aircraft to assist in inspections of power line 
safety and the acceleration of power restoration," Newsom said in a statement.

Newsom has called on PG&E to issue a credit or rebate to utility customers affected by the historic shutoff two weeks ago. 

That blackout cost Betty's about $12,000 in lost food and business.

Now they're expecting to close mid-day Wednesday and likely all day Thursday. That will mean more losses. Wednesday is when all the food is delivered and the refrigeration could be out.

"If we take the order tomorrow we take the risk of losing power and then our product. If we don't take the order, we won't have product. We can't win either way," said Corso.

One 94-year-old woman, who lives in a retirement community, is also expecting to be without power.

"I've got all my lanterns in the bedroom and living rooms. I don't like being in a dark house. I just have to live with it," said Louise Donohue.

Donohue is one of 27,000 customers in Sonoma County who could be affected.

PG&E said it is still fine tuning where exactly shutoffs will occur if at all. But far fewer customers will be affected.

Unlike last time, they expect the website to work, despite a glitch Tuesday morning.

"We have been redirecting everyone who visits to a temporary website in anticipation of increased traffic to the website," said PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras. 

PG&E will open community resource centers in the event of an outage, where residents can access restrooms, air conditioning, bottled water, and charge their electronic devices. The centers will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

The utility reminded its cusomers to prepare their emergency kits, which should include flashlights, batteries, first-aid supplies and cash. Residents should plan ahead if they have medications that require refrigeration. 

Bay City News contributed to this report