PG&E Announces Plans to Cut Power in California

Photo: Jeff Chiu (AP Photo)

Pacific Gas & Electric announced plans to shut off power in central and northern California on Tuesday. About 800,000 customers in 34 counties—millions of people—will be affected on Wednesday.

The blackouts are an attempt to avoid wildfires in a “severe wind event” forecast for this week that scientists say is made all the more dangerous by climate change.

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California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection found that PG&E’s electrical transmission lines caused last year’s Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed 19,000 buildings. In January, the utility declared bankruptcy.

CEO William D. Johnson’s base salary is $2.5 million, with a transition payment of $3 million for starting the job in May, and an annual equity award of about $3.5 million according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

According to PG&E, some customers might not necessarily find out ahead of time about the outage (emphasis mine):

The company has been notifying potentially impacted customers and will continue to do so, via automated calls, texts and emails. However, customers not impacted by the PSPS may experience power outages due to PG&E equipment damaged during this major wind event; those customers will not be notified in advance.

It is very possible that 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.

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Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president of Electric Operations, said: “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.”

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