PG&E wants to help prepare residents for possible extended power outages during extreme, high-fire danger weather.
“That’s the goal,” utility spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said as a preparedness open house began at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Napa Valley in the city of Napa on Wednesday.
There was no formal presentation to the scores of people who attended. Rather, people came and went from 6 to 8 p.m., looking at poster boards explaining the PG&E wildfire safety program, picking up pamphlets and questioning PG&E officials who circulated through the room.
PG&E has been in the news locally in recent years. Cal Fire blamed falling power lines during a windstorm with sparking the Atlas and Partrick wildfires in October 2017 that destroyed several hundred Napa County homes.
Then there are public safety power shutoffs which PG&E could impose during fire-prone weather to prevent downed power lines from sparking blazes. Calistoga and the rural east county have already experienced shutdowns. The utility is encouraging all customers to prepare to be without power for several days.
All of these factors drew residents to the Embassy Suites to pose questions to PG&E.
Debbie Roll moved to Browns Valley about six months ago. She works from home and wanted information on perhaps hooking up a generator to provide electricity during public safety power shutoffs.
“I think it would give me peace of mind...it’s like having health insurance or auto insurance,” Roll said.
She’s not the only one thinking along these lines. Bill Senske said the topic comes up among residents in Silverado, where he lives. He is involved with the Silverado Firewise Council and said the group might hold an education event on generators.
A PG&E handout at the open house said generators powered by gasoline, propane and other sources can keep the lights on during an outage, as well as keep life-support equipment running. They can also be expensive, noisy, pose a safety hazard and cost thousands of dollars.
The utility urged people to consider the pros and cons before buying a generator and to choose the type best suited for their needs.
Many residents have solar arrays on their roofs. Contreras said they can’t simply use solar for electricity in the event of a public safety power shutoff. They would need a storage battery.
Yountville Vice Mayor Kerri Dorman came to the open house to learn more about the public safety power shutoffs.
The town has two manufactured home parks and she lives in one with a master meter, Dorman said. That means only the park owner receives the bill from PG&E. Meanwhile, PG&E is encouraging all customers to sign up for text message alerts of pending shutoffs.
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“I don’t have an account,” Dorman said. “That’s my question – how do I sign up (for alerts)?”
The answer – she and other non-customers can’t. Contreras encouraged residents in this situation to work out a communication plan with the manufactured home park owner, who is a customer and can receive alerts.
Another possibility for non-PG&E customers is to sign up for Napa County Nixle alerts. The county in the case of a recent public safety power shutoff in the east county during high fire danger weather passed on the PG&E information.
Mount Veeder resident Kibbie Ruth alluded to a recent lawsuit settlement involving Napa County and the city of Napa over the Atlas and Partrick fires.
The county and city sued the utility for lost taxpayer money related to the wildfire response and damage. Last week, they announced a settlement had been reached, with $415 million to be apportioned at a future date among nine Northern California jurisdictions.
Ruth wants some of the settlement money to go towards repairing roads torn up by logging trucks and other big trucks in the wake of the fires.
She and her husband, Jim Granucci, lost their home on the slopes of Mount Veeder to the Nuns/Partrick wildfire. They hope to move into a rebuilt home this August.
They too are seeking money from PG&E, as are scores of survivors from PG&E fires who are not affected by the government agency lawsuit settlement. But they said they are not optimistic they will get anything, with Granucci adding such cases as wrongful death claims will be first in line.
“And rightfully so,” he said.
Mount Veeder resident Gary Margadant brought up what has been a persistent local complaint – that PG&E contractors are cutting down too many trees and over-trimming trees near power lines. The activity often takes place on private property with easements for the lines. Napa Vision 2050 in a recent alert called the situation the “PG&E nightmare.”
Where some see a Wild West of tree removal and trimming, PG&E officials depicted an ordered attempt to avoid future fires, with arborists and contractors adhering to American National Standards Institute standards for tree care.
Margadant said he didn’t come to the open house expecting to resolve this issue, but wanted to observe the event.
PG&E has held nine open houses in communities ranging from Chico to San Luis Obispo. It has another 12 scheduled and even more planned for a vast service area covering about two-thirds of California.
About 137 people attended the Napa County open house, which is a little above the average so far, Contreras said.