Power shutoffs planned in Bay Area, NorCal amid heat warning

PG&E plans to implement a public safety power shutoff this week when temperatures reach triple degrees throughout the Bay Area and other parts of Northern California. 

The counties where the shutoffs are likely are Napa and Solano in the Bay Area. 

Lake, Shasta, Yolo and other counties in the Sacramento Valley could also experience the shutoffs, which could begin Tuesday, the same day an excessive heat watch will go into effect.

Officials did not specify exactly how long the shutoff would last. 

The power shutoffs are to prevent wildfires, which could break out, especially with temperatures reaching past 100 degrees throughout parts of California. 

While PG&E customers often complain when their power is turned off, the utility's response is that the alternative is arcing power lines have been blamed for about half of the most destructive wildfires in state history, according to the Public Utiliies Comission, including 2018′s Camp Fire in Butte County that killed 85.

Over the years, PG&E has come under fire for turning off the power in times of extreme heat. 

In 2019, state regulators blasted PG&E for a botched shutoff that left nearly 2 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California without power. People couldn’t get information as websites and call centers crashed and local officials didn’t know what to tell panicked customers.

However, shutoffs have generally gone more smoothly since then. 

Do these shutoffs work? 

Experts say it’s hard to know what might have happened had the power stayed on, or if the utility’s proactive shutoffs are to thank for California’s mild fire season this year.

"It’s like trying to prove a negative," said Alan Scheller-Wolf, professor of operations management and an energy expert at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. "They can’t prove they prevented a disaster because there’s no alternative universe where they didn’t try this."

During a public safety power shutoff, PG&E de-energizes its grid in order to prevent its equipment from failing and sparking a wildfire, often amid hot, dry and windy weather. 

Residents can get the latest updates here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.