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PG&E expanding automated shutoffs ahead of wildfire season

PG&E Truck
Wikimedia Commons

More than 44,000 miles of power lines in California are covered by the system – including areas at greatest risk for wildfires. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that some PG&E customers are already carrying the burden of these automated blackouts.

Last year, many residents found themselves without power, causing spoiled food and internet outages. Between July and November of 2021, the system triggered 500 power outages impacting more than 560,000 homes and businesses. PG&E reported that the average outage lasted about nine hours.

PG&E officials told regulators they felt compelled to start the program because of the high risk of wildfires and launched the new system without notifying the public.

These automated shutoffs are different than planned blackouts, or what’s called public safety power shut-offs. Those outages are planned well in advance so power can be turned off during dangerous fire weather. Automated power outages only occur when the computer detects some sort of damage in a power line and immediately turns off the power.

Sydney Fishman is in the 2022 KALW News Summer Training Program. She is a producer for Crosscurrents.