PG&E Blackouts Affect Millions of Californians

Affected PG&E customers in California as of last night. Map: SF Chronicle

Early yesterday morning, California’s largest utility, PG&E preemptively cut off power to over 500,000 customers (and likely hundreds of thousands more) in an effort to prevent power lines from sparking wildfires. More than half of all California counties were without power which equates to over a million people. Dry, hot, and windy conditions compelled PG&E to make this decision, as it has been found responsible for sparking dozens of wildfires in recent years, including the state’s deadliest, an inferno in and around the town of Paradise last November that killed 86 people.

What This Means: Prolonged power outages disrupt lives and harm businesses. Here are some of the hardships this latest power outage has caused:

  • People living in areas that are still recovering from the Camp and Paradise fires are already struggling with food security and power outages may interrupt assistance they’re receiving.
  • School districts throughout the Bay Area are closed through Friday as are U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Santa Cruz.
  • Non-functioning traffic lights have caused an uptick in auto accidents.
  • PG&E’s website where customers can check the status of their outage has been down most of the day. The utility launched a new website which also doesn’t seem to be working. If you’ve been unable to get on the site, you can enroll in text alerts
  • Morale among PG&E customers is low as they cannot get definitive answers about when to expect outages and when power may return. This tweet sums it up.
  • As the New York Times reported, for residents in assisted-care homes or dependent on medical equipment in their own homes, the power cutoffs added to their daily challenges and stoked the worries of family members. Take a look at this Twitter thread to see what this outage is like for people with disabilities. 

Wind Spread Across California: It’s not just Northern California that may be affected, as the LA Times reported,

Southern California Edison said Wednesday that it was also considering preventive power outages. Given the strong Santa Ana winds forecast for the area, the utility said, power could be cut off to more than 173,000 customers in parts of eight Southern California counties.

Why This Matters: The San Francisco Bay Area was largely in chaos. People were caught off guard and didn’t have food, water, gas for their cars or gas-powered generators (which are terrible for the environment). As a result, there was a rush on stores that were reported to be sold out of nearly everything and gas stations had lines that were 20-cars deep. Overall, this was just a snapshot of the type of mass chaos that climate change will cause around the world if we do not prepare to fight it and adapt to the inevitable effects. We need leaders with a plan!

Worth Noting: Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign quickly put out a statement saying that should he win, these types of blackouts would cease to occur as his is the only climate plan that fully democratizes the power grid.

Go Deeper: PG&E has set up community resource centers where people can shower, charge their phones and get some water.

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