Pacific Gas & Electric expected to restore power Thursday to virtually all the 120,000 people it intentionally blacked out to avoid the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
The nation’s largest utility cut the juice on Wednesday in 10 Northern and central California counties because of concerns that dry, windy weather could throw debris into power lines, causing them to spark and ignite tinder-dry brush.
PG&E equipment has caused some of California’s most destructive wildfires in recent years.
But the weather proved better than expected. Higher humidity, cloud cover and even some rain showers in the Sierra Nevada helped reduce the risk, said Scott Strenfel, PG&E’s principal meteorologist.
“All of these factors kind of broke in all of our favor,” he said.
That allowed PG&E to drastically reduce the number of customers it originally had planned to blackout — about 375,000 — and even to begin restoring electricity in some areas Wednesday.
With winds tapering off, the utility expected to declare a weather all-clear Thursday morning, allowing it's ground crews and helicopters to inspect and if necessary repair power lines.
PG&E’s widespread outages in the past two months — one of which affected some 2.5 million people — may have prevented some fires but they also ignited criticism from lawmakers and inconvenienced residents.
As the traditional fire season wanes, the weather becomes more unpredictable and the utility has to gauge when and where to cut power based on changing forecasts, PG&E CEO Andy Vesey said Wednesday.
“This is terribly frustrating and terribly disturbing if you’re on the receiving end of this. We get that,” Vesey said Wednesday.
But the utility is always trying to limit outages, he said.
“If we have one customer who’s interrupted ... that is one too many,” he said, adding that “we’ve learned a lot of lessons” from previous cutoffs.
Looking ahead, there is the potential for “a fairly significant storm” arriving a few days before Thanksgiving that may continue through the holiday, Strenfel said.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to some rain and snow forecasting for the company,” he said.