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‘This Is A Last Resort’; Massive Bay Area Power Outage Underway

CBS SF Bay Area logoCBS SF Bay Area 10/9/2019 Syndicated Local – CBS San Francisco
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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Wind gusts began picking up in the North Bay hills early Wednesday, triggering a massive shutdown of PG&E power lines, plunging neighborhoods into pre-dawn darkness. The lights went out along Bridgeway in picturesque Sausalito and in downtown Sonoma as the power outage got underway.

The power outage began in the North Bay. A shopping center on Donahue was cast in darkness as were the Sausalito homes nearby. Meanwhile, the Cordella Village area of Fairfield also was in the shadows around 4 a.m. and many of the neighborhoods around downtown Sonoma were without lights.

California Highway Patrol warned commuters that the lights in the Robin Williams Tunnel on Highway 101 heading into San Francisco were not working. CHP officers were also assisting commuters at the busy Napa intersection of Highway 29 and Highway 221 were the traffic lights were out.

Overnight, the utility shut off power to more than half a million customers in Central, Coastal and Northern California. Officials said a second group of about 234,000 customers will lose power starting at noon.

PG&E said during a late Tuesday press conference that the offshore wind event has the potential to be strongest in the area since the Oct. 2017 North Bay fires.

“This is a last resort,” said Sumeet Singh, head of the utility’s Community Wildfire Safety Program.

It could take as many as five days to restore power after the danger has passed because every inch of power line must be checked to make sure it isn’t damaged or in danger of sparking a blaze, PG&E said.

The utility, whose lines deliver electricity to millions of Northern California residents, began what they call Public Safety Power Shutoffs around midnight in some regions–Napa, Solano, Sonoma and Marin Counties–as a precaution to prevent deadly wildfires.

It’s the largest planned power shutoff ever in California. In all, an estimated 278,000 meters may be turned off in the Bay Area representing hundreds of thousands of local residents. Across Central, Coastal and Northern California millions will be without power as PG&E planned to shut down the meters of 800,000 customers in 34 counties.

San Francisco is the only Bay Area county that will not see a power outage.

The outages will have far-reaching consequences for homes and businesses. When asked if there’s a way for customers to financially recoup their losses through PG&E, spokesperson Keith Stevens said, “Right now, there’s not a method for that.”

PG&E is currently under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after its power lines ignited several massive wildfires in Northern California since 2017. Victims of those fires have filed millions of dollars in damage lawsuits against the utility.

The utility claims a combination of a high wind advisory and red flag wildfire warning forced their hand.

“This is shaping up to be one of the most severe dry wind events we’ve seen in our territory in recent years,” Lewis said.


The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory for the North Bay Mountains, East Bay Hills and the Diablo Range beginning at 6 a.m. Wednesday. Forecasters said winds will be in the range of to 30 mph with gusts of 45 to 55 mph.

Meanwhile, a red flag fire warning will begin at 5 a.m. Wednesday and run through Thursday.

“There will be strong and gusty northerly winds across much of the North Bay and East Bay as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains,” the weather service said. “A very dry airmass will (also) sweep across the region by late Wednesday. Daytime minimum humidity values are expected to drop into the teens on Wednesday, and possibly to the single digits by Thursday.”

KPIX 5 Weather Forecast with Darren Peck 

Caltrans prepared for commutes to be affected Wednesday by the outages as two largely-traveled tunnels–the Caldecott Tunnel on SR 24 and the Tom Lantos Tunnel on SR 1–cannot operate without power. But crews worked through the night Tuesday to install generators at those vital roadways.

Devil’s Slide, Caledcott Tunnels to Remain Open During Outage

Drivers filled lines to fill up on gas Tuesday fearing the pumps may not be working during the outage. As such, transit may prove one’s best bet. BART and Caltrain both provided their own power and don’t expect service to be impacted.

VTA and SMART Train service is also expected to go as planned. None of the three major airports in the Bay Area anticipated any issues as they also have backup power sources.

The power outages started as early as midnight for some places, but for areas such as Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, the outages will start around noon.

PG&E officials said 32,613 customers in Alameda County could lose power including residences and businesses in Oakland, Castro Valley, Fremont, Union City, Berkeley, Hayward, San Leandro, Sunol, Pleasanton and Livermore.

In Oakland, preparations were moving from the personal level to citywide with all cops having days off canceled for all hands on deck patrol.

“We take this red flag warning extremely seriously, we all know the devastation that fires can cause and so this is a time to be extremely vigilant. Do not use equipment that might cause sparks. Be extremely cautious if you are a smoker. Might be a good week to quit,” said Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf at a news conference.

In Contra Costa County, 40,219 customers may be affected. That includes customers in San Ramon, Orinda, Lafayette, Moraga, Pinole, Richmond, Kensington, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Berkeley, Canyon, San Pablo, Pittsburg, Rodeo, Concord, Albany, Antioch and Martinez.

It’s the first time Contra Costa County is on the list of public safety power shutoffs. The concern is the thick, tangled canopy of trees and power lines in the area of Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda and the narrow roads filled with homes beneath it.

“I’m not very happy about it and I think it’s over precaution on their part,” Lafayette resident Lewis Giles told KPIX 5.

In Marin County, Under 10,000 residential and business customers could be without power including Sausalito, Stinson Beach, Olema, Muir Beach, Fairfax, Bolinas, Mill Valley.

In Sonoma County, 66,289 customers are at risk of losing power including people and businesses in Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Glen Ellen, Penngrove, Geyserville, Kenwood, Rohnert Park, Windsor, Annapolis, Stewarts Point, Cotati, Cazadero, Guerneville, Larkfield, El Verano, Boyes Hot Springs, Fulton and Bodega Bay.

In Napa County, 32,124 customers may lose electricity, including those in Napa, St. Helena, Calistoga, Angwin, Pope Valley, Rutherford, Oakville, Deer Park, Lake Berryessa, Yountville and American Canyon.

The San Mateo County communities and cities that could be affected include Half Moon Bay, El Granada, Woodside, Moss Beach, Montara, Portola Valley, Pescadero, La Honda, Redwood City, San Gregorio, Loma Mar, San Mateo, Menlo Park, Emerald Hills, Pacifica and Princeton.

In all, 14,766 San Mateo County customers may lose electricity.

“I don’t know what people will do. Five days? Restaurants, businesses…just so PG&E doesn’t get sued,” said Cindy Graham of Half Moon Bay.

San Mateo County supervisor David Canepa says PG&E gave the county too little notice and did not discuss other solutions beyond a unilateral forced blackout.

“They really need to invest and make sure they find solutions around equipment. Instead of putting people in the dark for five days,” Canepa said.

In Santa Clara County, 38,123 residential and business customers could be without power, including those in San Jose, Morgan Hill, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Redwood Estates, Milpitas, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Coyote, Gilroy, Mount Hamilton and Palo Alto.

San Jose city leaders expressed frustration with PG&E, complaining that the utility had left them in the dark without the detailed neighborhood-by-neighborhood information about outages they’d need to develop an effective emergency plan.

“It’s frustrating because we’re not getting the right information. And the information we’re getting doesn’t quite make sense to me,” said Ray Riordan, San Jose’s Director of Emergency Services.

Residents and businesses in the Solano County communities of Fairfield, Vacaville, Suisun City, Vallejo and Dixon may be affected. In all, 32,862 customers might lose power in those cities.

Hundreds of thousands more customers in other regions of Northern and Central California may be affected by the PSPS event for a possible total of about 800,000 in this shutdown operation, according to PG&E.

The utility’s customers may be affected even though they are living in an area that isn’t affected by dangerous fire conditions because parts of the system that serve one area may originate in an area that is affected by extreme weather, PG&E officials said.

Several Bay Area schools canceled classes Wednesday due to the outages, including UC Berkeley:

East Bay: UC Berkeley, Skyline High School in Oakland and all schools in the San Leandro School District are closed. Four schools in the Castro Valley Unified School District are also closed.

San Jose: All 19 schools in the Alum Rock School District are closed.

North Bay Santa Rosa Junior College and several schools in the Santa Rosa City Schools combined district are closed. Sonoma State University is also closed.

To see maps of where power outages may occur, visit the PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff Outage Maps.

To sign up for PSPS alerts, visit Prepare For Power Down.


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