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PG&E considers new power outage for North Bay but will system fixes be ready?

Source: 
The Press Democrat

Oct. 21--Pacific Gas and Electric Co. officials are planning for a possible power outage later this week for all or parts of 17 counties spanning the North Bay to the Sierra Nevada foothills due to forecasts of warm, dry and windy weather conditions.

But it wasn't clear Monday whether fixes to the utility company's floundering information system, laid bare during an Oct. 9-11 planned outage, be ready for Wednesday's possible shutdown.

Less than two weeks ago, with forecasts calling for severe fire weather, the company shut off power to more than 700,000 Northern and Central California customers -- and millions of people -- some for days. Some 66,000 Sonoma County customers were included.

The utility was scorned for the way it handled the outage. Its communication with customers was hampered by websites that repeatedly crashed, and its outage maps did not in many instances accurately depict areas affected or excluded from the outages. State officials and regulators also questioned the breadth of the previous outage, which affected most of PG&E's vast territory.

Utility officials acknowledged the poor response and pledged system improvements. They also said the outage achieved its goal -- no serious wildfires occurred from equipment issues.

"We acknowledge this event presented a hardship for millions of people. We fell short on several areas of execution," Contreras said Monday, reiterating comments Friday by company officials called before the state Public Utilities Commission Friday.

PG&E officials then outlined several improvements coming to the system, including a reinforced website equipped for a higher volume of traffic, call centers that can handle more calls, better maps, better coordination with other agencies and doing a better job reaching vulnerable customers. The company also will try to narrow the scope of the outages to avoid including customers who fall outside the weather concerns, and add weather stations to help pinpoint the worst of the impacted areas.

Those changes were underway Monday.

"We are still working to improve all of this," said Deanna Contreras, company spokeswoman.

Power officials as of noon Monday hadn't called for an outage. Sunday evening PG&E opened its emergency operations center when forecasts for potentially strong and dry offshore winds starting Wednesday came into focus. Officials then began issuing public alerts to the possibility.

Utility officials Monday were analyzing forecasts and making plans, including contacting local governments.

More information should be available later Monday, including the number of potential customers included should the company move ahead with an outage, Contreras said.

The worst of the weather was expected from Wednesday evening to mid-day Thursday.

The chance of another shutdown comes on the heels of PG&E's largest planned outage earlier this month, which left more than 700,000 Northern and Central California customers -- and millions of people -- without power, some for days, during predicted severe fire weather.

PG&E officials subsequently said they found at least 50 instances of weather related damage to their lines during that event.

Fire investigators have found the company's equipment has sparked most of the state's deadly and destructive wildfires in Northern California over the past two years. The bankrupt company this year expanded its plans for planned outages, citing the need to avoid further wildfires.

This week, the counties that could be impacted, at least partially, are Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Marin, Amador, Butte, Colusa, El Dorado, Nevada, Place, Plumas, San Joaquin, Solano, Tehama, Yolo and Yuba, according to PG&E. Officials predicted it would include fewer customers than the shutdown earlier this month.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707-521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.

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(c)2019 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.)

Visit The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.) at www.pressdemocrat.com

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