State Sen. Bill Dodd called the way PG&E’s massive public safety power shutoff unfolded in much of Napa County and nearby counties Wednesday as “beyond frustrating.”
“Public safety power shutoffs have a role to play when they’re needed to prevent massive wildfires and the huge human and economic costs we’ve seen in recent years,” Dodd said in a press release. “However, many of my constituents are disturbed that the power was shut down before the winds started to pick up in the North Bay.”
Some residents in the darkened Alston Park neighborhood of the city of Napa told the Napa Valley Register they questioned the blackout timing. They awoke Wednesday to no power and no wind.
PG&E’s weather map at 2 p.m. Wednesday showed wind gusts in the North Bay hills topping out at 34 mph and being much lower in most locations, well below the 45 mph that PG&E uses as one potential trigger for shutoffs. The National Weather Service predicted gusts Wednesday night could reach 65 mph, helping to create critical fire danger.
Asked about Dodd’s statement on the shutoff timing, PG&E spokesperson Deanna Contreras said the utility began its public safety power shutoff program last year. It continues to seek feedback and make adjustments.
“With every public safety power shutoff that we have, we improve,” she said.
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PG&E communicates with and takes questions from city, county and state officials two to three times per day during shutoffs. The utility takes feedback and concerns seriously, she said.
Dodd, D-Napa, had more to say. “For years, PG&E has done a poor job on maintenance and tree clearing, and they’re still not even close to where they need to be,” he said. “That fact, along with breakdowns in communication, are unacceptable. Sadly, poor performance by PG&E is par for the course, so it’s not surprising.”
Dodd said he wrote several bills recently signed into law to help address these issues. One requires the state’s Wildlife Safety Division to physically inspect PG&E’s vegetation management work. Another establishes the Wildfire Forecast and Threat Intelligence Integration Center to improve wildfire prevention and mitigation.
Addressing Dodd’s vegetation-clearing concerns, Contreras pointed to PG&E’s Community Wildfire Safety Program, which includes new safety measures, such as ensuring greater clearances between trees and power lines.
The program also included efforts to inspect power lines manually and aerially via helicopter, and an accelerated timeline for inspecting and repairing damaged, high-priority lines.