Pacific Gas & Electric is “proactively” shutting off power in portions of 34 counties in northern and central California amid severe wind conditions Wednesday and Thursday, the utility announced.
The blackouts could impact electric service for nearly 800,000 customers, the utility said Tuesday, adding customers should prepare for “an extended outage” given the company will need to inspect equipment after the wind event subsides before bringing power back online.
“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,” Michael Lewis, PG&E's senior vice president of electric operations, said in a statement.
PG&E’s decision is a balancing of risks that’s likely to frustrate customers. More than 260 California schools closed their doors Wednesday due to the expected outages, according to a tally from CalMatters.
But the power shutdown is also indicative of the types of difficult decisions utilities will increasingly have to make as climate change intensifies storms and extreme weather events like wildfires.
The California utility is trying to keep history from repeating. PG&E has been under intense scrutiny for the role its equipment has played in sparking wildfires in the state in the last several years.
And PG&E is fighting for its future amid what many have called the first “climate change bankruptcy” prompted by massive liabilities the company is facing due to wildfire damages.
The increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires in California is affecting its greenhouse gas emissions, too.
Wildfires in the state in 2018 emitted around 45.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, a 24% increase from the previous year, an Oct. 8 report from the nonprofit group Next 10 found.
That report also estimated California would be decades behind in meeting its climate goals for 2030 and 2050, unless the state quickens the pace at which it’s cutting greenhouse gases.