Napa County dodged a potential public safety power shutoff on Monday that could have left 10,500 customers in the dark, with Tuesday the next question mark.
Pacific, Gas & Electric announced Sunday that a shutoff could take place starting Monday afternoon or evening to avoid sparking wildfires during predicted hot, windy weather. On Monday afternoon, the utility said it would forgo a blackout in Napa County that day, but that late Tuesday remained a possibility.
A PG&E map of potential affected areas showed the northwestern edge of the city of Napa, including neighborhoods near Alston Park and a sliver of Browns Valley. Most of the city would keep power. Other areas on the potential outage map included the Silverado and Soda Canyon areas, St. Helena, Calistoga and Lake Berryessa.
Large swaths of Napa County had to live with uncertainty on Monday morning. Business owners faced losing power needed to serve customers. Residents faced returning home from work to houses with lights that didn’t work and refrigerators no longer cooling food.
Residents in the potential affected areas face the same questions on Tuesday.
Go to PG&E’s website at https://bit.ly/2myV4ah to see a map of possible public safety power shutoff areas. Customers can get more precise information on whether they might be affected by going to https://bit.ly/2mvpeLy and entering their address.
This was PG&E’s largest announced possible safety shutoff in Napa County since the utility formulated plans last year to avoid repeating 2017 and 2018 wildfires that burned thousands of Northern California homes after winds toppled utility lines.
Overall, 124,000 customers in nine counties had been warned Monday morning to expect public safety power shutoffs, PG&E said. The other counties were Butte, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sutter, Yuba, Lake and Sonoma. As of Monday afternoon, PG&E planned to cut power to 21,000 customers in Butte, Nevada and Yuba counties.
The National Weather Service on Monday predicted temperatures in the city of Napa will reach 97 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday. Winds could reach 30 to 35 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph on high peaks and ridges. Napa County hills are under a red flag warning through 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Predicted winds over the next two days are not October 2017-style winds, but are strong enough to warrant concern, county Risk and Emergency Services Manager Kerry John Whitney said on Monday morning.
The October 2017 wildfires destroyed about 650 houses in Napa County. Cal Fire investigations concluded trees and branches falling into PG&E lines on the hot, windy night of Oct. 8, 2017 sparked the Atlas and Partrick fires.
Whitney said the county would have a challenge communicating with visitors through Nixle about a public safety power outage, given they might not be signed up for local alerts. This week will see an influx of visitors for the Safeway Open at Silverado Resort and Spa.
PG&E announced it could open several community resource centers in the Sierra Nevada foothills in the event of a shutoff, but not in Napa, Sonoma and Lake counties. The resource centers are places with electricity that people can go to do such things as charge a phone or medical equipment or find air conditioning.
Whitney said this is a concern. It’s been a challenge to get PG&E to commit to opening community resource centers in Napa County, he said.
PG&E on June 8 shut off power to 1,300 customers in the Lake Berryessa, Gorden Valley and Wooden Valley areas as a wildfire safety precaution. The utility opened no community resource centers. Instead, the county opened electricity charging areas at the Gorden Valley and Capell Valley fire stations.
But Napa County might have to explore other ways of establishing charging areas if PG&E doesn’t do so. Whitney said the county doesn’t want to get in the way of fire departments.
PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras on Monday didn’t rule out opening North Bay community resource centers if local power shutoffs take place. The centers for the Sierra foothills were announced first because the possible public safety power shutoff notice came first for those areas, she said.
Bill Senske lives in the Silverado area. He purchased a backup generator powered by propane so he will have electricity if public safety power is shut off.
“I’m ready,” Senke said on Monday morning.
The 2017 Atlas fire burned several hundred homes in the Silverado area, with Senske’s house surviving. Senske said the public safety power shutoff policy that PG&E initiated last year makes him feel more secure about avoiding future fires.
Thousands of homes were lost over the past two years in California to wildfires sparked by electrical equipment. Given that scenario, Senske said he sees why PG&E is looking at public safety power shutoffs.
“Whatever inconvenience it is and whatever meat you have in the freezer that thaws out and goes bad doesn’t seem very significant compared to that,” Senske said.
Senske helped start the Silverado Firewise group in the wake of the Atlas fire. In August, the group held a presentation on generators for those who might want to install them to provide power to their homes during shutoffs.
His generator system cost $5,000, with most of the cost coming from a switch he installed to make changing to the generator power source simple, Senske said. The generator will power his entire house except for air conditioning. Someone could buy a $200 generator to power a refrigerator and a couple of lights, he said.
Whether Senske or anyone else in Napa County will need a generator Tuesday or Wednesday is the question. PG&E said it should provide the answer by late Tuesday morning.
Contreras said PG&E knows how much its customers rely on power. There are safety risk on both sides of either having or not having public safety power shutoffs, she said.
“We just want our customers to be prepared,” Contreras said.
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