PG&E to cut power in face of wildfire threat

Ethan Chen, Webmaster and Staff Writer

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Facing an elevated risk of wildfires, California electric company Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) will shut down power to many California residents today, potentially affecting residents in Palo Alto.

PG&E began the shutoff today at 12:00 a.m., and will continue to shutoff parts of its service area today. Santa Clara county is scheduled to be shutoff at noon today.

The shutoff will affect many parts of Northern and Central California, potentially including the Palo Alto area. A live map for power outages in Palo Alto can be found here, courtesy of the city.

Map of potentially affected areas in Santa Clara
County. Source: PG&E.

While Palo Alto is not specifically listed as a potential area, there is still a high likelihood of power outages to the Palo Alto area west of I-280, according to PG&E. This is because the area is serviced by the City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU), which intakes electricity from the PG&E power grid. Therefore, shutoffs that PG&E induces may affect the city.

Despite these risks, the city of Palo Alto plans to continue providing necessities such as water, gas, and sewer services to residents. Should a power outage occur, the city will be providing updates through its social media platforms on what to do. More info, tips on how to prepare, and what to do during the outage can be found here.

Additionally, the Palo Alto Unified School District does not expect any of its facilities to be affected by the outage. Should it occur, the District hopes to maintain regular school operations and hours.

“During times of power outage, it is the intent of the District to try to continue with normal operations and regular school hours,” PAUSD stated in an online post. “Schools remain open and we have proactive plans in place.”

When asked in an email about what Palo Alto High School specifically is doing for the outage, Principle Adam Paulson stated that “[Paly] is prepared in the event of a power outage, school will continue as normal.  […] There would be a few classrooms with limited windows that we may have to move or provide lighting for.”

According to PG&E officials, nearly 800,000 California residents across 34 counties in the state are at risk of losing their power starting today, lasting for up to 24 hours or more as the company plans to preemptively shut down power due to dangerous weather conditions.

“PG&E has called a public safety power shutoff because of conditions that may lead to catastrophic wildfire growth,” a PG&E representative stated in a Twitter post. “This system is a potentially dangerous weather system bringing very strong gusts reaching 70 miles per hour coupled with critically dry relative humidity.”

Strong gusts of wind coupled with dry humidity are perfect conditions for wildfires to spread, qualifying for a Red Flag Fire Event, according to weather.gov.

In the wake of previous wildfires that PG&E has been involved with, the company is taking extra precautions this time around.

“The ultimate priority is safety,” the representative went on to state.

While some may find the power shutoffs outrageous, PG&E concluded that the outage was a necessity for safety.

“We very much understand the inconvenience and difficulties such a power outage would cause and we do not take or make this decision lightly,” a PG&E spokesperson said in a separate announcement. “This decision is really focused on ensuring that we’re continuing to maintain the safety of our customers and communities. We implement the public safety power shutoff as a last resort and we really appreciate our customer’s and communities’ patience as we continue to work to face this unprecedented wildfire risk.”

PG&E’s website is currently down due to high traffic, but regular updates can be found on PG&E and the City’s twitter accounts.