California’s largest utility started intentionally shutting off power to customers Wednesday to prevent its equipment from setting off fires.
The shut-offs began at 7 a.m. (10 a.m. ET) for about 50,000 customers in 10 northern California counties, said Katie Allen, a spokeswoman for Pacific Gas & Electric. Another 100,000 are on standby to lose their electricity Wednesday, she said.
PG&E said it expects high winds and dry conditions Wednesday as a storm bears down on the state, leading to increased risk of fire. The utility said earlier the shut-off would affect 18 counties.
“PG&E will safely restore power in stages as quickly as possible, with the goal of restoring the most customers by end of day Thursday, based on the current weather conditions,” the company said.
This week’s outage was the latest in a series of power shutoffs that have been heavily criticized by residents.
The utility’s meteorologists are monitoring and anticipate sustained winds of up to 25 mph and gusts ranging from 30-50 mph. Fire weather watches have been issued in the service area because vegetation is extremely dry and temperatures are 5-15 degrees above average, the company said Sunday.
The Northern California utility, which has come under fire recently for cutting power to thousands of people as part of its plan to prevent wildfires, filed for bankruptcy protection in January while facing billions of dollars in claims tied to deadly fires. Newsom said that his office aims to get the company out of bankruptcy by June 30, 2020 by first working on a plan with PG&E and other stakeholders.
PG&E has been criticized in recent years for the role its equipment was found to have played in a series of catastrophic fires across the state, including the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest in state history.
The Camp Fire killed 85 people and destroyed thousands of structures was started by electrical lines owned by PG&E. The company filed for bankruptcy in January as it came under pressure from billions of dollars in claims tied to deadly wildfires.
In addition to PG&E, utility company Southern California Edison has also turned off power in affected areas.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has said the state could take over the utility if it does not pull itself out of bankruptcy by the middle of next year.
“PG&E as we know it may or may not be able to figure this out. If they cannot, we are not going to sit around and be passive,” Newsom said. “If Pacific Gas and Electric is unable to secure its own fate and future … then the state will prepare itself as backup for a scenario where we do that job for them.”