Roughly 741,000 homes or businesses in Calfornia were still without power on Monday afternoon, according to Pacific Gas and Electric’s numbers – a result of the utility’s planned power outages that PG&E hoped would reduce the risk of sparking fires.
With the latest round of blackouts beginning 26 October, nearly 2 million people could go without power for five days – an unprecedented impact for a planned power outage in California, the Los Angeles Times points out:
Cutting power for five days to a million customers far exceeds national averages, according to federal data.
The average electrical outage even with “major events,” such as ice or wind storms, runs four hours, according to the US Energy Information Administration. South Carolina ranks the worst with an average duration of 20 hours. New York and Nevada rank the best.
The utility has been roundly criticised for its handling of the blackouts, the first of which came 9 October. And in a new, 230-page report made public today, PG&E acknowledged “significant shortcomings” in the planned power outage, admitting that its communication with customers and agencies was inadequate, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.
The report found that PG&E was slow to give customers, including government agencies and individuals with serious medical conditions, adequate advanced notice. When its website was inundated with an unexpected number of requests from people seeking information, it crashed several times. An unprepared call center resulted in long wait times for customers.
PG&E defended the decision to cut power but vowed to improve the process in the future.
And yet, despite the massive scale of the preventive blackouts, it appears likely that the utility’s equipment was responsible for sparking three recent fires.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that two fires that started Sunday in Lafayette, a community just north-east of Oakland, happened at same location and at roughly the same time as two PG&E electrical malfunctions, according to the reports sent to the California Public Utilities Commission.
The news comes less than a week after PG&E acknowledged that its equipment could have played a role in sparking the Kincade fire, currently the state’s largest and a blaze firefighters are still working to contain. In that case, too, a malfunction coincided with the place a fire started.
The utility cut off power because live, wind-toppled wires could easily ignite dry vegetation. But in all three recent fires, however, PG&E left the juice running, assuming that the area was at a low risk of fire.
The utility is believed to have been responsible for wildfires in 2017 and 2018 and in January filed for bankruptcy protection.