Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) began the process of turning off power to more than 800,000 customers in California on Wednesday. The utility says that the phased public safety power shutoff is due to gusty winds, dry conditions, and a heightened fire risk.
Shortly after midnight on October 9, the first outages began, affecting half a million customers in several counties, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Businesses, schools, hospitals, government labs, and other organizations in northern and central parts of the state braced for blackouts, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Hospitals in the Bay Area told the outlet they were moving refrigerated medications to locations that would continue to have power and also readying backup generators. Schools and universities canceled classes, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory closed.
The planned shutoffs could last longer than 48 hours, according to PG&E. “Once the weather subsides and it is safe to do so, PG&E crews will begin patrolling power lines, repairing damaged equipment and restoring customers,” the utility’s site says.
Although PG&E launched a website called Weather Awareness in August to give customers advanced notice of planned shutoffs, high traffic volume to the utility’s site made some of the pages inaccessible on Wednesday.
Many expressed frustration over the outages, which are estimated to leave more than 2 million people without electricity, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Placerville Hardware owner Albert Fausel had his store’s cash registers running on a generator at midmorning as customers roamed the aisles in darkness, loading up on flashlights, oil lamps and batteries,” Times journalists wrote. “Denise Boldway, owner of Blossoms Florist in Eureka, said the outage launched the city into pandemonium.”
Critics of the bankrupt utility questioned the extent of the outage, calling it excessive and troubling. Others, including Governor Gavin Newsome, expressed support for PG&E.
This is what PG&E thinks is in the best interest of their customers and ultimately for this region and the state,” the governor said, the Los Angeles Times reported.