PG&E Launches Website Alerting Customers to Pending Power Shutoffs

(Image: A screenshot of PG&E’s weather map on August 29, 2019. Credit: PG&E and Mapbox)

by | Aug 29, 2019

(Image: A screenshot of PG&E’s weather map on August 29, 2019. Credit: PG&E and Mapbox)

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) introduced a weather awareness website intended to give customers advanced notice of pending power shutoffs. The move comes after the utility received backlash from imposing blackouts during periods of high wildfire risk over the past year.

The PG&E Weather Awareness website shows whether there are any plans for shutoffs in the next seven days. Heat, high wind, red flag warnings, and the condition of dry fuel on the ground are among the factors used to determine the daily forecast published by an operational meteorologist from PG&E’s meteorology and analytics team.

“If weather forecasts indicate gusty winds and dry conditions, combined with a heightened fire risk, it may be necessary for us to turn off the electricity serving that area,” the utility explained. “This is called a public safety power shutoff (PSPS).”

During the past year, PG&E imposed two deliberate outages, the Sacramento Bee’s Dale Kasler reported. One in June at the start of wildfire season in California affected 20,000 customers in Butte and Yuba counties, according to the paper.

“The Butte blackout left Paradise without power for part of day, angering residents of a community that was largely destroyed by last November’s deadly Camp Fire,” Kasler wrote. “The moves have prompted criticism that PG&E’s blackouts are hurting businesses and endangering customers and law enforcement.”

PG&E says the new website covers nine of the utility’s geographic regions and presents four levels of PSPS potential:

  • Not Expected — Conditions that would warrant a shutoff event are not expected.
  • Elevated — The utility is monitoring an upcoming event, typically a period of adverse weather combined with dry fuels, for an increased potential of a shutoff event.
  • PSPS Watch — PG&E’s Emergency Operations Center is activated based on a reasonable chance of executing a PSPS in a given geographic zone due to a combination of adverse weather and dry fuel conditions; a watch is typically only issued within 72 hours before the anticipated start of an event.
  • PSPS Warning — Customers in specific areas being considered for a PSPS have been or are being notified. However, this level doesn’t guarantee an outage because conditions and forecasts could change.

“Customers and communities need to prepare, and this weather intelligence complements the letters, community open houses, webinars, workshops, social media posts and more that we’ve used to emphasize that message,” said PG&E meteorologist Scott Strenfel.

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