PG&E Preventative Blackouts to Prevent Fire Impacting 2+ Million Customers in 34 Counties

PG&E’s two bankruptcies in fewer than twenty years led to chronic under investment in maintenance and system reliability upgrades. Their failure to complete tree trimming to protect powerlines led to catastrophic fires and a reliance on multi-day large scale blackouts to prevent fires. Since the beginning of year 2020, there have been well over 8000 wildfires that have burned over 3.6 million acres in California. Since August 15, when California’s fire activity elevated, there have been 26 fatalities and over 6600 structures destroyed. As a result, billions will be spent on fire claims, litigation, and fire prevention at the expense of capital improvements needed for system reliability. Furthermore, wide scale adoption of solar and renewables has cost them their best customers while leaving universal service requirements.

Blackouts are the new normal for PG&E customers during the fall “fire” season. PG&E’s CEO has warned customers to expect future blackouts for the next decade. These blackouts impact over2 million customers in over thirty counties – including many counties that are hundreds of miles from the locations of any fires.

These “preventative” blackouts are typically two to five days in duration. They are causing cascading failures of critical infrastructure, including:

  • Food & Medical Supply Chains
  • Hospitals
  • Fuel distribution
  • Manufacturing 
  • Communications
  • Banking / Finance
  • Education
  • Safety

This has resulted in severe economic disruptions in the impacted areas. Each of these multi-day blackout events costs ~$2 billion in customer losses. There have been two of these events in October 2019 with additional events likely in November. The losses are impacting local businesses, schools, and government. They also are starting to have a negative impact on economic development as the prospect of regular blackouts over the next decade halts new economic development projects and can be expected to lead to multiple past successes turn into failures as existing employers relocate to other states or close.

PG&E customers can expect multiple power outage alerts every fall during fire season.

CBS: PG&E CEO claims blackouts could continue for 10 years, angering regulators

Calmatters: Are power outages the new normal? A chat about PG&E, California fires, and electricity of future