New PG&E Rules Mean More Extensive Blackouts

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In a huge change to existing rules, the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday gave PG&E and other public utilities across the state the green light to shut off power, to more people, during times of extreme fire danger.

The new rules on so-called precautionary outages mean that even large metro areas like San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Rosa could be partially blacked out for up to days at a time.

The change is designed to head off catastrophic fires like the October 2017 Firestorm in the North Bay and the 2018 Paradise blaze.

PG&E acknowledged the risks to those who rely on electricity for life support, saying the power shutdowns would only come in times of extreme fire danger.

In the past the utility shut power off only on secondary lines in at-risk rural areas, but the new plan expands that to include high voltage transmission lines like the one that sparked the Paradise fire, the state’s deadliest.

That fire killed 85 people and torched nearly 15 thousand homes.

The state wants PG&E and other utilities to do a better job of working with emergency responders and community groups to warn of impending shutdowns, and also to help low income and at risk residents prepare for shutdowns with generators and other equipment.

Under the current plan, if a major shutdown happens, utility crews would have to inspect every de-energized line first before power is restored.  That could take days in some cases.

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