Some communities in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties will likely be among those losing power this week.
As a precautionary measure to reduce wildfire risk during the forecasted severe wind event, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) confirmed Tuesday afternoon that it will implement a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) in portions of 34 northern, central and coastal counties, affecting electric service for nearly 800,000 customers.
PG&E expected to begin turning off power in some areas early Wednesday, just after midnight. The power will be turned off to communities in stages, depending on local timing of the severe wind conditions, beginning with counties in the northern part of the state.
“The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our most important responsibility, which is why PG&E has decided to turn power off to customers during this widespread, severe wind event. We understand the effects this event will have on our customers and appreciate the public’s patience as we do what is necessary to keep our communities safe and reduce the risk of wildfire,” said Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president of Electric Operations.
In Stanislaus County, Oakdale, Riverbank and Knights Ferry are all in the potential impact area, while Farmington and Stockton in San Joaquin County are also on the list.
Officials anticipate the period of peak winds will occur from early Wednesday morning and last through Thursday midday.
“This is shaping up to be one of the most severe dry wind events we’ve seen in our territory in recent years and we want our customers to be prepared for an extended outage that may last several days. Our meteorological and operations teams continue to actively monitor the weather and this evolving situation, and we are working directly with state and local agencies to help prepare our customers and the public for this safety event,” said Lewis. “We want our customers to be aware that, based on this number, it could take several days to fully restore power after the weather passes and safety inspections are completed.”
Customers may be affected by a power shutoff even though they are not experiencing extreme weather conditions in their specific location. This is because the electric system relies on power lines working together to provide electricity across cities, counties and regions.
Overall, based on the latest weather forecasts and models, PG&E anticipates that this weather event will last through midday Thursday, with peak winds forecasted from Wednesday morning through Thursday morning and reaching 40 to 55 mph, with isolated gusts up to 60 to 70 mph.
Before restoring power, PG&E must inspect its equipment for damage and make any necessary repairs. That process cannot begin until the severe weather event has subsided.
Given the prolonged period during which the wind event will unfold, and the large number of power line miles that will need to be inspected before restoration, customers are being asked to prepare for an extended outage.
PG&E will work with state and local agencies to provide updated restoration timelines following the conclusion of the severe weather event.
To support customers impacted by the PSPS event, PG&E is planning to open Community Resource Centers across the affected areas.
The Resource Centers will be open during daylight hours only and will provide restrooms, bottled water, electronic-device charging and air-conditioning. In the Stanislaus-San Joaquin County region, the center is in Westley at the Westley Hotel. Also nearby is a Resource Center in Tuolumne County, at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora.
Customers are encouraged to visit pge.com/pspsupdates for the most up-to-date Public Safety Power Shutoff information, including addresses for the Community Resource Centers as they open and a link to an address look-up tool where customers can search their address for potential impacts.
There are several steps to power restoration after a PSPS event.
Weather All Clear: After the dry and windy weather has passed and it’s safe to do so, crews can go into the field to begin patrols and inspections.
Patrol and Inspect: Crews will work to visually inspect power lines to look for potential weather-related damage to the lines, poles and towers. This is done by vehicle, foot and air. Visual inspections are necessary since circuit breakers, reclosing devices and fuses that are typically used to help detect any potential damage from a weather event like a winter storm are also de-energized during a Public Safety Power Shutoff for safety reasons.
There are many challenges crews face during inspections. Some locations require workers to travel on narrow access roads. In locations with no vehicle access, crews might need to hike in remote and mountainous areas to inspect equipment. And, at night, the company can’t fly helicopters for visual inspections.
Isolate and Repair Damaged Equipment: Where equipment damage is found, crews will work to isolate the damaged area from the rest of the system so other parts of the system can be restored.
Finally, the crews can then begin restoring power to customers within the PSPS event.
As part of PSPS preparedness efforts, PG&E is asking customers to update their contact information at pge.com/mywildfirealerts or by calling 1-866-743-6589 during normal business hours. PG&E will use this information to alert customers through automated calls, texts, and emails, when possible, prior to, and during, a Public Safety Power Shutoff.
Also, those that might be affected are urged to plan for medical needs like medications that require refrigeration or devices that need power.
Identify backup charging methods for phones and keep hard copies of emergency numbers. Build or restock your emergency kit with flashlights, fresh batteries, first aid supplies and cash.
Information and tips including a safety plan checklist are available at pge.com/wildfiresafety.