North Bay gets through first day of power shutdown

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California’s biggest utility cut power to more than a million people Wednesday for what could be days on end in the most sweeping effort in state history to prevent wildfires caused by windblown power lines, according to reporting from the Associated Press.

PG&E’s planned shutoffs for the second phase of Northern California counties, including Mendocino County, had been planned to start at noon but have since been delayed and could happen starting around 8 p.m., the San Francisco Chronicle reported late Wednesday afternoon.

PG&E tweeted Wednesday afternoon that customers who had not seen a power cut in Sonoma, Marin, Napa or Solano counties would not experience one due to the rolling shutoffs.

The National Weather Service San Francisco Bay Area tweeted around 3 p.m. that much of Napa County is experiencing relative humidity levels of 10% or less, putting it in the range of fire danger. A NWS map showed similar conditions surrounding Santa Rosa and Healdsburg Wednesday afternoon.

“To everyone asking, ‘Where’s the wind? Where’s the wind?’ Don’t worry, the wind is coming. Go for a hike above 4,000 feet and you’ll feel it,” said Steve Anderson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Bay Area office. “Obviously PG&E doesn’t want to cut the power when there’s already strong winds. You want to cut the power before it happens.”

In Sonoma County, more than 66,000 customers lost power from roughly 50 planned outages. The most are in Santa Rosa, with 26,431 customers knocked out of power, according to PG&E. Virtually all of the Sonoma Valley was darkened Wednesday involving nearly 16,000 customers. In Petaluma, seven outages affected 4,459 customers.

In Napa County, 32,124 PG&E customers are without power, according to the utility.

The Napa Valley Register said Wednesday afternoon that most of the businesses at the South Napa Century Center — a movie, food and office complex — are without power. The Century Napa Valley movie theater, however, is on a separate electrical circuit and opened at midday as scheduled, the paper said.

The Marin Independent Journal reported from Marin authorities that that power was cut to 3,568 customers in Sausalito and Marin City, 4,582 in Mill Valley and surrounding unincorporated areas, 819 in Stinson Beach, 782 in Bolinas, 178 in Muir Beach, 11 in Fairfax and two in Olema, according Marin authorities.

Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman, said the utility’s forecast still indicated peak winds “from Wednesday morning through Thursday morning and reaching 60 to 70 mph at higher elevations.”

“It is very possible that customers may be affected by a power shutoff even though they are not experiencing extreme weather conditions in their specific location,” Contreras said. “This is because the electric system relies on power lines working together to provide electricity across cities, counties and regions. We understand the impact turning off the power for safety has on customers, we don’t take this action lightly. We ask for your patience as we go through this wind event.”

Contreras did not say whether any PG&E customers were currently experiencing extreme weather conditions but noted that wildfires in 2017 and 2018 “have made it overwhelmingly clear that more must be done to adapt and address the threat of wildfires and extreme weather with greater urgency.”

Maggie Fleming, a Sonoma County spokeswoman, said the county’s efforts were focused on working with residents who faced extended power outages. She echoed Chris Godley, the county emergency management director, who said Tuesday he wasn’t going to second-guess PG&E’s decision to carry out a historically large planned power outage.

“There’s no question around whether this was an appropriate outage from PG&E,” Fleming said. “We’re just focused on responding to the outage and recognizing the risk of the weather.”

The utility company’s outage map remained down at times Wednesday. A company spokeswoman said there have been issues due to high demand.

The red flag warning was due to expire Thursday at 5 p.m. and forecasts include projected wind gusts of more than 70 mph atop the region’s highest peaks.

The Press Democrat contributed to this story.

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