By Diana Diamond
Some answers, please, PG&EUploaded: Oct 10, 2019
I want to know a lot more about why and who made the PG&E decision to cut off electricity to prevent wildfires to more than 886,000 customers in California – and, more important, why he/they decided to include such a wide swath of customers living between the forests near the Oregon border, through the Sierras and down to the Bay Area. Was a smaller area even considered, or was PG&E trying to cut electricity in every area that might potentially be affected by forest fires? In other words, did this utility company adopt a CYA approach?
Were these blackouts only to ensure the safety of people, as the company said? Or were they because this bankrupt and dysfunctional utility company decided to self-protect itself from another lawsuit?
Why am I suspicious?
The closedown to prevent another suit is good business reasoning, but did they ever consider the impact that would have on 30 counties and more than 2 million residents in total who, PG&E said, might be without electricity for up to seven days, according to the Santa Clara County Office of Emergency Management. Seven days! Once a shutdown occurs, the company said it then has to inspect every inch on the lines in the affected area – a seemingly impossible task to quickly accomplish.
The longer the shutdown, the more problems there are for utility customers: the spoiling of food in our refrigerators and freezers, our ability to cook if we have electric stoves, keeping our computers and cell phones charged, getting information if we don’t have battery-operated radios, getting gas for our cars if gas stations close down because of lack of electricity, going to our jobs. How many flashlights or candles will we use up trying to read at night, brush our teeth in the dark, see our digital clocks, and dry our wet hair? What will stores do? Close down?
This area so far (today is Thursday) has been affected in the Palo Alto foothills, and some areas west of Highway 280, like Woodside and Portola Valley. We all had little notice. Perhaps this alert was due to weather predictions of high winds, which contribute mightily to the start of forest fires during a dry season, as we’ve been experiencing. But the utility company has had a year since the Camp Fire that killed 86 people and destroyed Paradise to plan for a similar occurrence, and yet residents get little notice to cope without electricity.
Classes were cancelled at Humboldt State University, Mills College and UC-Berkeley. Banks and businesses were closed; small storeowners were worried about a days long possible shutdown. Cities were notified and some went into a state of emergency, such as San Jose and also Santa Clara County. Morgan Hill declared a nighttime curfew.
Has PG&E made progress since last year’s fire? If there’s another weather alert for high winds this year, does this mean we will have to go through a similar PG&E shutdown in a few days, weeks, or next month?
I want answers. If this was an overreach on PG&E’s part, I want explanations and details on how the company will improve reacting in the future. Utilities are basic to our living.