PG&E says all blackout customers have power again – 50 instances of damage found

Power has been restored to all homes and businesses in California affected by Pacific Gas and Electric’s public safety blackouts, officials said in a news release late Saturday, three days after the utility company had shutdown power in 35 counties.

The full restoration came five hours after the company held a Saturday afternoon news conference to announce that all but about 2,500 ratepayers were back on the grid. The last customers to be reconnected were scattered through the Sierra foothills and northern Sacramento Valley.

In all 738,000 customers were intentionally taken offline by the utility company in the name of a “public safety power shutoff” due to the threat of extreme fire danger.

With high winds through the week, PG&E officials have stated that the blackouts – estimated to have affected 1.5 million Californians in total – were necessary to prevent a power line failure from sparking a fire.

PG&E reported 50 confirmed cases of damage or hazard to power lines during the windy conditions this week found by crews — tree branches on top of electric lines in Napa and Glenn counties, electric lines felled and a wind-swept pole leaning into dry brush in Shasta County.

“Any which of those could potentially have resulted in cause of ignition and potential of a catastrophic wildfire” had lines not been de-energized, said Sumeet Singh, Vice President of the utility company’s Community Wildfire Safety Program.

There are an additional 100 locations of damage under review across the state that are also suspected to have been caused by high winds.

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PG&E president Bill Johnson said access to the rural outage areas remaining Saturday had been difficult, in some cases requiring the use of helicopters to fly in a new electrical pole to reconnect just one customer.

Johnson praised the company’s ability to restore power for the vast majority of customers impacted by the shutoffs within 48 hours of winds dying down and getting the “all clear” to begin inspections, repairs and restorations.

“One of the main misconceptions was that we did this to save our own skin,” Johnson said. “Categorically, it is false. The only thing the people of PG&E care about is the safety of others.”

The beleaguered utility company filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, facing billions in financial liabilities related to several devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018 caused by electrical equipment failures.

Since then, the company has spent months on a statewide tree trimming effort, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to cut tree branches and vegetation that could pose a threat to its power lines.

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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