California utility giant PG&E cut the power Wednesday to its Northern California customers in more than 20 counties in an effort to prevent wildfires during a spate of dry autumn weather with forecast winds of 25 mph and gusts up to 40 mph.
PG&E is in the process of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in response to billions of dollars in fire claims against the corporation. Courts recently ruled it was utility’s decades-long practice of deferring maintenance and subsequent power-line failures that caused some of California’s recent massive deadly fires, such as the wine region fires in 2017 and the Camp Fire 2018. This follows six felony convictions for the San Bruno gas line disaster.
Last week’s blackouts affected 800,000 homes and an estimated 3 million individuals and businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area, the wine country north of San Francisco, the agricultural Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills East of Sacramento, reports state.
What was not reported are those who were affected peripherally by the blackouts.
Perhaps a million or more California residents who were not located within, but rather adjacent to, PG&E blackout zones were nonetheless affected. Providers that rely on electricity to deliver services both inside and outside of PG&E coverage areas — such as cable TV and internet providers, cell phone services and water utility agencies — had service disruptions, in some cases lasting a couple of days.
Schools cancelled classes, businesses closed and non-essentially service were not available. Gas stations were closed as well as banks, and ATM machines were not in service. In some communities, traffic lights were out or malfunctioning, which created lengthy traffic delays and backups. One local morning news correspondent reported that it took his crew three hours to travel three exits on a foothill highway.
PG&E planned the rolling blackouts two weeks prior to the shutdown and warned its customers via text message a few days in advance to prepare for possible outages lasting up to five days; however, not everyone affected got such a message. PG&E’s website crashed as as frustrated and angry customers tried to obtain information.
The actual duration of the targeted outages varied. PG&E restored power to most areas within 48 hours, reports indicate, but some had to wait four to five days for line repairs. Typically, these delays occur in more rural areas, where residents have limited access to resources.
During the blackout, there were 75 mph gusts of wind in the Central Valley, local news stations reported, but along the coast and in the Sierra Nevada foothills, winds ranged from 0 mph to 4 mph, which outraged PG&E customers who spent days without power.
In the foothill town of Oroville, someone egged the local PG&E office and a PG&E service vehicle was hit by a bullet. As you may recall, Oroville was location of the dam disaster in 2017, which was due in part to deferred maintenance.
The utility said that during the power reboot, it identified 50 line locations in need of repair. This begs a question: Wasn’t it possible to spot these locations prior to the outage?
Ultimately, the northern California blackouts could be labeled “effective” given no lives were lost due to power-line failures — as far as we know. But there were fires — about 48 of them in the greater Sacramento area between Wednesday and Friday. They ranged from small house fires to a wild fire that consumed thousands of acres, according to local news reports.
PG&E essentially announced last week that customers better just get used to the outages as “the new normal.”
The economic impacts of these blackouts on the state, counties, municipalities, businesses and individuals have yet to be calculated. Analysts estimate this latest round of blackouts may have cost billions in terms of lost taxes revenues, lost sales and inventory, lost wages and income, overtime for first responders, and theft. (The Bay Area has the worst theft rates in the nation.)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday said “we,” meaning state taxpayers, are going to financially backstop PG&E, which is a publicly traded corporation, for the cost of inspecting and repairing power lines.
“It is not the state’s responsibility,” he said, “but we will take responsibility because the moment requires that.”
PG&E gave a record number of political donations during the 2018 election cycle. Newsom was one of the few candidates who did not either decline or refund its donation.
Third Wold California
Power outages are characteristic of Third World countries, as is crumbling infrastructure, medieval rodent-borne diseases like typhus, corrupt elites, extreme and vast poverty, a one-party government, tribalism, gangs, lack of security, poor social services and oppressive taxes — all of which California can arguabley claim more than any other state in the nation.
Further exacerbating matters, California’s captured political machine has made it a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants, who are offered free health care and social welfare upon arrival. Meanwhile, California residents pay the highest basket of taxes in the nation, meaning the collective of income tax, sales tax, fuel tax, utility taxes, internet tax, property taxes, etc., etc., etc.
Teeing up an October Surprise
On Wednesday, a day before the power was cut to the Bay Area, there was a 3.3 earthquake in the blackout zone. More quake swarms are expected. In 2017, a researcher at Berkeley announced the discovery of a correlation between the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains and quake activity along the San Andreas Fault. Last winter’s snow pack was 188 percent of normal, and enthusiasts were still skiing in July.
What would the consequences be of a significant earthquake during one of these massive blackouts? Would they be able to get power restored? How might it affect emergency services?
I live PG&E adjacent. In the early morning hours Wednesday, my cable and internet services were disrupted as the utility powered down neighboring communities. (Services didn’t return to normal for about two days.) Wednesday afternoon, I noticed my entire neighborhood suddenly grow dark as black clouds of smoke drifted in from the West.
I spent the next couple hours or so gazing out the window for signs of flames while trying to access the internet from my cell phone to find out more information, and without success. And then it suddenly dawned on me. There are tens of thousands of people in Sierra Nevada mountains communities like Auburn that could be in serious danger, if all of their services are shut off and there’s a fire.
On the other side of Lake Folsom in El Dorado County — where a large number of communities spent a couple days without power as a wildfire burned to the South — the local water district sent out emails warning customers that water services may be interrupted due to the power outage. Yep, it seems they use electric pumps to deliver water to some areas. Farms and ranches also rely on electric pumps to deliver water to crops and animals.
So communities Southwest of Lake Tahoe had no lights, possibly no water, no internet, no TV, spotty cell phone coverage and a wildfire raging nearby. How exciting!
It was probably equally exciting in the gang lands of Oakland, where power was shut off there for a couple days. Oakland is one one of the most dangerous cities in the country, and the executives at PG&E in their infinite wisdom agreed to pull the power plug on it. Wow.