With High Winds and Dry Conditions Expected in the Northern Sierra and North Valley, PG&E May Need to Proactively Turn Off Power for Safety in Portions of Butte, Plumas and Yuba Counties

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  • An estimated 21,000 customers who might be affected by the Public Safety Power Shutoff are receiving the initial notifications today–two days ahead of the potential event
  • Fewer than 1 percent of PG&E customers could be affected by shutoff

SAN FRANCISCO: This afternoon, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) notified customers in portions of three Northern Sierra and North Valley counties about a potential Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) starting Saturday evening. Hot and dry conditions combined with expected high wind gusts pose an increased risk for damage to the electric system that has the potential to ignite fires in areas with dry vegetation.

High fire-risk conditions are expected to arrive Saturday evening, continue through Sunday evening and subside Monday morning. PG&E will then inspect the de-energized lines to ensure they were not damaged during the wind event. PG&E will safely restore power in stages as quickly as possible, with the goal of restoring most customers within 12 daylight hours, based on once the weather “all clear” is provided.

While there is still uncertainty regarding the strength and timing of this weather system, the shutoff is currently expected to impact approximately 21,000 customers in portions of Butte, Plumas and Yuba counties. This weather event will be localized to the Sierra Foothills, so customers in the Bay Area and southern parts of PG&E’s service area will not be impacted.

Potential Public Safety Power Shutoff: What People Should Know

The potential PSPS event is still at least 48 hours away. PG&E’s in-house meteorologists as well as its Wildfire Safety Operations Center and Emergency Operations Center will continue to monitor conditions, and additional customer notifications will be issued as we move closer to the potential event.

Customer notifications—via text, email and automated phone call—began late this afternoon. Customers enrolled in the company’s Medical Baseline program who do not verify that they have received these important safety communications will be individually visited by a PG&E employee with a knock on their door when possible. A primary focus will be given to customers who rely on electricity for critical life-sustaining equipment.

Why PG&E Calls a PSPS Event

Due to forecasted extreme weather conditions, PG&E is considering proactively turning off power for safety. Windy conditions, like those being forecast, increase the potential for damage and hazards to the electric infrastructure, which could cause sparks if lines are energized. These conditions also increase the potential for rapid fire spread.

State officials classify more than half of PG&E’s 70,000-square-mile service area in Northern and Central California as having a high fire threat, given dry grasses and the high volume of dead and dying trees. The state’s high-risk areas have tripled in size in seven years.

No single factor drives a PSPS, as each situation is unique. PG&E carefully reviews a combination of many criteria when determining if power should be turned off for safety. These factors generally include, but are not limited to:

  • Low humidity levels, generally 20 percent and below
  • Forecasted sustained winds generally above 25 mph and wind gusts in excess of approximately 45 mph, depending on location and site-specific conditions such as temperature, terrain and local climate
  • A Red Flag Warning declared by the National Weather Service
  • Condition of dry fuel on the ground and live vegetation (moisture content)
  • On-the-ground, real-time observations from PG&E’s Wildfire Safety Operations Center and observations from PG&E field crews

New for 2020: Improved Watch and Warning Notifications

In response to customer feedback requesting more information as soon as possible to ensure they have time to prepare for and plan in advance of a potential PSPS event, PG&E will provide improved Watch and Warning notifications this year.

Whenever possible, an initial Watch notification will be sent two days in advance of a potential PSPS event. This is what is being sent to customers today. One day before the potential PSPS event, an additional Watch notification will go out, notifying customers of the possibility of a PSPS event in their area based on forecasted conditions.

A PSPS Watch will be upgraded to a Warning when forecasted conditions show that a safety shutoff will be needed. Whenever possible, Warning notifications will be sent approximately four to 12 hours in advance of the power being shut off.

Both Watch and Warning notifications are directly tied to the weather forecast, which can change rapidly.

As an example of how notifications have been improved for 2020, customers will see the date and time when power is estimated to be shut off as well as the estimated time when their power will be restored, all provided two days before the power goes out. Last year, the estimated time of restoration was not provided until the power had been turned off.


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