SAN FRANCISCO — As Pacific Gas and Electric Co. began to restore power to most of the 179,000 customers affected by the latest round of planned blackouts, the utility — which has been shutting off electricity during wildfire conditions — warned than an even bigger outage may be just around the corner.
The Register provided free access to this article. Please consider supporting our local journalism by purchasing a subscription.
At a news conference Thursday evening, PG&E officials warned that another public safety power shutoff, the biggest one so far, could come as soon as early as Saturday evening and stretch into Monday.
"We do think that it will be the strongest offshore wind event of the season by a large margin, and if models are correct, possibly the strongest offshore winds we've seen in years," said PG&E chief meteorologist Scott Strenfel.
Strenfel said the forecast currently calls for 40 to 60 mph gusts over "most of the elevated terrain of Northern California," with peak gusts of 70 to 80 mph in isolated locations.
Bill Johnson, CEO and president of PG&E, said the shutoff would likely occur on the Peninsula, in the East Bay, North Bay, Central Coast, Sierra foothills and Humboldt County. It remains to be seen exactly how many customers would be impacted. He said the company was at "elevated potential" for a new shutdown in eight of the nine zones the company serves.
Johnson added that the shutdown could be as large as or larger than the shutdown that began Oct. 9, but that it may last longer based on weather conditions.
Before the nation's largest utility confirmed the shutdown watch at its news conference, agencies and elected officials throughout the company's service area said they had been notified of the possible outages.
"We have been told a total of 48,000 customers will be impacted in Contra Costa," Contra Costa County emergency services manager Rick Kovar saidin an email to county officials.
Humboldt County also posted a notice on its website Thursday that PG&E has notified the county of a planned shutoff that would likely impact 2,188 customers.
The power outage on Wednesday and Thursday affected 17 counties, including San Mateo County and Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Lake, Kern, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sierra, Sonoma, Tehama and Yuba.
As winds subsided Thursday, PG&E began inspecting power lines to restore electricity to about 1,000 customers in San Mateo County in the La Honda area.
In La Honda, some businesses closed up shop entirely while others adapted to stay open.
At the La Honda Country Store, the blinds were shuttered and a lock hung on the front door. A whiteboard next to the entrance, which typically tells customers the special of the day, read "the store will not be open."
A few doors down at the Post Office, though, employees worked with flashlights and headlamps, sorting mail and handing out packages to residents who dropped in.
And on top of a small hill above the downtown strip, teachers at La Honda Elementary School opened their classroom blinds and taught in the sunlight. Students used outdoor portable bathrooms and handwashing stations.
Just two weeks after undergoing the last PG&E outage, Principal Liz Morgan said the school was fully prepared to handle the outage and any emergency.
"If we can be open, and it's safe to be open, then we want to continue on with the instruction and providing that for our students and their families," she said.
As of 5:30 p.m. Thursday, power had been restored to 125,000 customers, according to the utility. About 56,000 customers remained in the dark in Kern County, where dry, windy conditions are expected to continue until midday Friday.
It was the second time this month the power utility has shut off electricity as a precaution to prevent their equipment from sparking wildfires. The first major blackout earlier this month affected 2 million people across the state.
Staff writer Maggie Angst contributed to this report.