PG&E warns of California blackouts amid wildfire season

Company has been fined over $100M for mishandling previous power outages

California's Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is warning the state's residents to prepare for outages at the start of another threatening wildfire season.

Amidst historic drought conditions for almost 80% of the Golden State, the company urged customers to take action and implement safety and precautionary measures in order to reduce risk.


In a release, PG&E wrote that state law requires homeowners to keep 100 feet of defensible space around homes and structures or to the property line by clearing out flammable materials like vegetation in order to prevent the spread of a fast-approaching wildfire and help protect firefighters.

The organization also advised that residents regularly clear roof and rain gutters by removing dead leaves or pine needles, trimming tree branches that hang over roofs and strategically landscaping.

In this Nov. 9, 2018 file photo, Pacific Gas & Electric crews work to restore power lines in Paradise, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

In addition, the power company – which provides service to 16 million people in Northern and Central California – warned it "may need to turn off power for public safety" as warm, high winds whipping through streets can "can cause tree branches or debris to contact energized electric lines, which could damage electrical equipment and cause a major wildfire."

PG&E also highlighted the importance of emergency plans and go-bags, as well as up-to-date customer contact information in order to receive potentially life-saving wildfire alerts and updates on Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS).

"Extreme weather threats can change quickly. PG&E’s goal, dependent on weather and other factors, is to send customer alerts through automated calls, texts, and emails at 48 hours, again at 24 hours, and once more just prior to shutting off power," the company wrote.

For people with disabilities or specific needs for which electricity is paramount, like charging and operating medical devices and running well pumps, PG&E said having a battery or generator "becomes the solution to overcoming or lessening the impact of a PSPS.

The company advised those in need take advantage of programs offered to obtain discounted or free backup batteries including PG&E’s Generator Rebate Program, PG&E’s Portable Battery Program, the Disability Disaster Access and Resources (DDAR) Program and the Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP).

Additional community resources for a PSPS include Address Alerts, the expansion of event-ready, ADA-accessible indoor Community Resource Center sites and meal replacement resources, rebates for portable generators, the Community Microgrid Enablement Program, distributing 11,500 portable batteries to customers with medical or independent living needs and meals to seniors and growing community-based organization partnerships.

In a commitment to improving wildfire safety programs, PG&E said it would exceed state vegetation standards across 1,800 miles, upgrade the electric grid by hardening at least 180 miles of power lines, install 250 sectionalizing devices to narrow the scope of PSPS events, employ new risk models and pilot new technologies to detect threats to the electric grid and rapidly reduce or shut off power.


Last year, California show more than 4 million acres burn in wildfires, the most in recorded history. 

This year, Cal Fire has warned that the state has continued to "experience an increase in wildfires and acres burned compared to last year."

In May, California power regulators fined PG&E $106 million for mishandling power outages in 2019 and the company also reached $43.4 million in settlements with government agencies in three counties ravaged by wildfires ignited by its equipment during 2019 and 2020.