Better Weather Eases California Power Shutoffs
Pacific Gas & Electric restored power to thousands of Northern California customers on Wednesday after a shutdown to reduce the threat of wildfires.
Before dawn, the utility cut the electricity to more than 48,000 customers in seven counties in the wine country and Sierra Nevada foothills out of concern that gusty winds could knock down power lines and spark blazes during hot, dry weather.
Schools throughout the region cancelled classes and people sought relief in stores from temperatures forecast to reach triple digits.
Kaye Diefendorf said she woke up without power at her rural Oroville home but the office building where she works in Chico was not affected by the outages.
"We have power here but at home there is no electricity, no water, no air. It's terrible," Diefendorf said, adding that her home relies on water from a well powered by electricity.
By Wednesday evening, however, changing forecasts allowed PG&E to restore power to nearly everyone in Napa, Placer, Plumas and Sonoma counties.
About half the customers in Butte, Nevada and Yuba counties remained without power but the utility said it expected to have service restored to a majority of areas Wednesday night after crews check the lines to make sure they're safe.
Meanwhile, Southern California Edison, which had warned that it was considering shutoffs to more than 140,000 customers, reduced that figure Wednesday evening to about 600, thanks to forecasts of cooler, calmer weather.
PG&E's precautionary shutoff was the second this week. Power was cut to 24,000 customers in Butte, Nevada and Yuba counties on Monday and restored for a few hours Tuesday before those customers lost power again Wednesday, said Denny Boyles, a PG&E spokesman.
Some of the most destructive blazes in the state in the past two years were started by PG&E power lines, including a November blaze that killed 86 people and virtually leveled the Butte County town of Paradise.
In January, PG&E sought bankruptcy protection, saying it could not afford an estimated $30 billion in potential damages from lawsuits stemming from catastrophic wildfires.
Earlier this month, PG&E agreed to pay $11 billion to insurance companies holding 85% of the claims from fires that include the Paradise blaze.
The settlement, confirmed Monday, is subject to bankruptcy court approval.
It's important for PG&E to pull itself from bankruptcy protection because it will be a big part of a wildfire fund set up to help California's major utilities pay future claims as climate change makes wildfires more frequent and severe.