Sharp criticism for PG&E's pre-emptive power outage

Lake County leaders have sharp criticism for PG&E's pre-emptive power outage that affected a large swath of the county. 

"I think it's a big game they're playing and quite frankly, it's unacceptable," Lake County Supervisor Rob Brown told KTVU Monday, on a deserted Main Street in Kelseyville. 

The outage, from Sunday evening to Monday evening, in response to high fire danger, affected more than 11,000 households in Lake County, including Middletown, Hidden Valley Lake, Kelseyville, Clearlake Park and Clearlake Oaks.   

Lakeport was on PG&E's original list as well, so school was canceled Monday. 

That turned out to be a false alarm; Lakeport's power was never cut, so thousands of students and their parents were needlessly inconvenienced. 

"That's the PG&E theme, better to be safe than sorry and that gives people the excuse to make bad decisions," charged Brown.  

Brown pointed to Monday afternoon's weather reading in Kelseyville, with no wind, and questioned why power had to be out all day.

Even after the "red flag" fire condition has eased, PG&E said it would not restore electricity until it had performed inspections,walking and flying over it's system looking for damage.

"Well I have an idea," posed Brown, "how about they take a chain saw with them, since they're out there anyway, and cut all the brush down so they don't have to worry about it next time."   

Brown said he was hearing many concerns and complaints from seniors, many of them medically fragile. 

At a mobile home park catering to elderly residents, Greg Swanson was indignant about the lack of warning. 

"This ain't right, you don't drop something like this on a 92-year-old lady," said Swanson, who is caregiver to his mother Doris Greene.

"I'd feel better with the power on," said Greene, "because I don't like being in the dark."

Greene is recovering from pneumonia.

Swanson said many residents in the complex were worried about their oxygen machines and being able to charge their wheelchairs. 

"They should have told us sooner, given us a heads-up so we could get extra lights and heat in for the elderly, this is bad for them, and I almost had to take my mom to emergency last night, she was so cold," said Swanson. 

By mid-afternoon, most of Middletown and Hidden Valley Lake had power restored. 

Clearlake communities and Kelseyville waited until about 8 p.m.

"A lot of these businesses are on a shoestring budget, they're struggling to survive as it is," Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin told KTVU. 

"I get the idea that PG&E wants to shut down power to prevent fires but this isn't a sustainable way to handle this."

The sheriff says beginning with the first cryptic warnings on Sunday, he and other first responders tried to learn details of PG&E's plans, but without success. 

"We need specific information on where the outages will be and for how long," insisted Martin. 
"This is a tremendous hardship on our community and after four years of fire disasters, this is not something Lake County needs. We didn't ask for it and we don't need it," he continued.  

None of the notable fires of recent years in Lake County had power-related causes, with the exception of the Sulphur Fire on October 8, 2017. 
That fire destroyed almost 200 structures in the area of Clearlake Park, and was sparked when a power pole snapped in high winds and brought lines to the ground. 

CalFire has traced more than two dozen fires across the region that same night, to utility equipment failures or contact with vegetation.

Lawsuits have followed, blaming PG&E maintenance practices for the loss of lives and property across Northern California.

"I think the outage is just PG&E showing their power, and I don't blame them, they're getting blamed for everything that happened over in Santa Rosa," said Sid McCloud, owner of The Brick, an historic bar in Kelseyville.

Through some quirk of the power grid, The Brick never lost power.

Up and down Main Street, though, windows were dark and "closed" signs dotted the doors.  
"If they can shut power down that quick, they can turn it on that quick," complained bar patron Mark Borghesani. 

He and other customers watched Monday night football, while speculating about PG&E's new era of de-energizing lines.  

"They figure they'll just do what they want, turn the power off, and not worry about any fires," said Borghesani," and that's it, that simple, nothing we can do about it."

Directly across from the lit-up bar, the Kelseyville Market remained open into the evening, still without power. 

The owner was dumping dairy products,eggs, frozen food, ice, and finally, melting ice cream, which he tried to give away to anyone passing by. 

He expressed uncertainty about whether his financial losses would be compensated, and his calls to PG&E left him with little optimism.   

"I said to them, what do yu want me to do with all my foods?" recounted store owner Vijay Sharma, and they said 'sorry sir, sorry for the inconvenience, and that was all I got from them." 

Lake County has a population of about 65,000 people. 

Tuesday morning, at the Board of Supervisors meeting in Lakeport, supervisors will discuss, as an urgent item, their response to PG&E's strategy, and push for more planning and communication, if there is to be a repeat.