Electricity restored to all Bay Area PG&E customers

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Lights are back on for  the large swath of PG&E customers affected by a preventative power outage across a dozen counties. 

On Tuesday night, the utility said 97,000 customers were warned they might be affected, but 59,000 actually lost power. 

Two-thirds of those had electricity restored on Monday, with the remainder on Tuesday, making it a 48 hour hardship for some. 

"PG&E is currently between a rock and a hard place and they want to do the right thing," State Senator Mike McGuire told KTVU, as the outages were waning. 

McGuire does not question the decision to de-energize lines rather than risk more wildfires, with gusting winds Sunday night into Monday. 

But he does take issue with the way the outages were implemented. 

"We have to learn from the mistakes that were made and we have to do better," declared McGuire, "and PG&E has to do better." 

Both McGuire, who represents Lake County, and Senator Bill Dodd of Napa County, want planning and communication improved before and during any future intentional blackouts. 

"Well tonight it's calm, you don't see a tree moving, so why the hell isn't the power back on? " posed Dodd, questioning the extended duration. 

PG&E, in a written statement Tuesday evening, said that when weather conditions improved Monday, it "began the inspection of 3,400 miles of power lines and the restoration process."    

The company also said crews repaired wind damage in "multiple instances were power lines had been compromised by the severe weather."

Sen. Dodd noted fire risk is a combination of heat and high wind plus overgrown vegetation. 
"They probably did outages in areas where they knew they had some vulnerability in their grid, where they knew that trees were not trimmed as much as they should have been," said Dodd.  

Among the issues the lawmakers want addressed: at-risk residents with health issues that make them dependent on electricity for medical equipment. 

Senator McGuire expressed frustration that PG&E delayed disclosing the names of those medically-fragile customers, so that local responders could check on their welfare. 

By the time the roster of 600 names was provided, the outage was well underway. 

"That is just not okay," fumed McGuire, "and I have been in constant communication with PG&E executives and I have been very blunt with my feedback that they need to make improvements."

Another example cited by McGuire: failure to alert Caltrans so that safety signage could be placed on State Highway 29, where signal lights were out, with traffic moving at high speed.  
"PG&E needs to step up," challenged McGuire. 

State and local officials complained that households and businesses had too little time to prepare for the outage, and received no specific information on when it would end, so they could plan accordingly. 

At a shipping and mailing store in Lake County, the proprietor was still waiting patiently for power Tuesday.

"With the wind, I was really grateful they turned the power off," said Madeline Martinelli of the Loch Lomond Mail Express, "because I could rest easier, it was a good reason and I thought it saved us."
PG&E has always had the right to power down to prevent fires, but previously chose not to do so.

"Frankly I wish they had done this a year ago," said Sen. Dodd, noting that the inaugural run will be reviewed by regulators.

"They have to report to the California Public Utility Commission within ten days," explained Dodd, " and report on what they did, why they did it, and how they did it, so we'll see."   

Dodd notes San Diego's power company has cut power to minimize fire hazard at least 17 times since its own wildfire disaster a decade ago.  

Under newly passed legislation taking effect in 2019, PG&E must develop policies on preemptive outages that take the public's needs into account.  

So far, the utility has not indicated what changes, if any, it might consider.  

"This is the new normal," said spokesperson Deanna Contreras, "and we have a protocol in place and we wil do it again in the name of safety to reduce wildfires." 

Some residents in fire-prone areas say they are taking a wait and see approach to the outages, for now.        

"I think as long as it doesn't run more than a day or two, as long as it follows the forecast," said Dan Fossa, a Lake County business owner who lives in the Cobb area. "But if they start running five, six days, people are really gonna start to get upset." 

With a population of 65,000, Lake County estimates that 40 percent of its residents were without power for some part of the outage.