A sign calling for utility company PG&E to turn the power back on during a statewide blackout in Calistoga, California, on October 10 2019. Picture: AFP/JOSH EDELSON
A sign calling for utility company PG&E to turn the power back on during a statewide blackout in Calistoga, California, on October 10 2019. Picture: AFP/JOSH EDELSON

Culver City — Power supply to 150,000 California homes and businesses is expected to be shut off on Wednesday, in the latest precautionary outage planned by utility company PG&E against wildfire risks posed by extremely dry, windy weather.

Late on Tuesday, the company said it would go forward with the shutoffs in the morning, with some customers likely to be unaffected until late afternoon.

The mass blackout will be the fourth imposed by Pacific Gas & Electric since October 9, when about 730,000 customers were left in the dark as a preventive measure called a “public safety power shut-off”.

A precautionary outage initiated on October 23 hit an estimated 179,000 customers, while another run in phases from October 26 to November 1 affected 941,000 homes and workplaces, according to PG&E.

The latest mass shut-off is likely to run until midday on Thursday and could affect 181,000 customers across portions of 16 counties in northern and central California, PG&E spokesperson Katie Allen said.

The outages are a response to forecasts for humidity levels to drop and heavy desert winds to howl through the region, a scenario that strengthens the risk of wildfires ignited by downed power lines.

PG&E, California’s largest investor-owned utility, filed for bankruptcy in January, citing $30bn in civil liability from fires sparked by its equipment in 2017 and 2018. That tally includes the state’s deadliest fire on record, the Camp fire that killed 85 people in the northern town of Paradise last year.

The wave of precautionary shutoffs has provoked criticism from governor Gavin Newsom, state regulators and consumer activists as being too broad. Newsom blames PG&E for doing too little to properly maintain and secure its power lines against wind damage and has accused the utility of poorly managing some of the mass outages.

The California Public Utilities Commission has opened a formal investigation of whether PG&E and other utilities violated energy regulations by cutting power to millions of residents for days at a time during periods of high winds.

Reuters