PG&E begins cutting about 800,000 Californians' power due to wildfire risk

San Francisco-based utility Pacific Gas & Electric began proactively shutting off more than 800,000 California customers' power ahead of high winds that are expected on Wednesday morning, the company said.

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The company made the move to cut the risk of wildfires that have plagued California repeatedly in recent years.

"PG&E warned its customers they should expect to be without power early Wednesday morning through Friday morning, when the winds are the strongest, while some are preparing for up to a week," the company said on Wednesday.

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Business owner Ed Susman of Equilibrium Tuning estimated he'd lose around $5,000 on day one of the shutdown alone. His shop is located halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento.

"We had to shut down the shop. I had to send my employees home and try to contact my customers to tell them we can't service them today. We don't know when this is going to be over because PG&E left it open," he told FOX Business.

"It would take a pretty significant generator to run an automotive shop. It's not realistic for long-term," Susman added.

He would consider taking legal action against PG&E, describing the shutdown as "completely irresponsible."

"It's been a giant mess … for decades now," Susman said. "PG&E continues to raise prices to pay for lawsuits, continues to get bailed out by the state … Shareholders continue to make profits."

The company's "Public Safety Power Shutoff" could affect about 30 California counties — including all but two counties in the Bay Area.

"We understand the effect this event can have on our customers," PG&E spokeswoman Kristi Jourdan told FOX Business. "We don't take this action lightly."

She said PG&E couldn't anticipate which areas could experience the longest shutdowns because the company has to physically inspect infrastructure to make sure it hasn't been damaged by winds.

Some businesses, like Holly's Hill Vineyards east of Sacramento, are resorting to generators.

"We hedged our bets a little bit by doing things in advance, since we knew power was likely going to come off," Holly's Hill winemaker Josh Bendick told FOX Business, adding that he thought PG&E did a good job communicating about the shutdown.

The vineyard has resorted to generator power to run the "essential stuff," he said. But being in a rural area, the business relies on power for water and is having to bring in portable toilets ahead of a weekend event.

"It's affecting the way we’re making wine right now … We're postponing picking grapes because we can't process them," Bendick added. "Hopefully the power will be back on [next week] because it's time-critical."

He thinks the outrage over the shutdown could make more of an impact this year since it affects more people than last year, when Holly's Hill was also affected.

Schools are shutting down, too.


PG&E has turned off electricity in the Upper Lake area, which is about 100 miles northwest of Sacramento, as of 1 a.m. Schools were closed Wednesday and will handle power shutdowns on a day-to-day basis Upper Lake Elementary School posted on Facebook.

Some of the most destructive and deadly blazes in modern California history were sparked by PG&E power lines. Winds can knock down live wires and power poles or drive trees and other vegetation into contact with them.

Jourdan advised affected California residents to check and PG&'s Twitter for the latest updates.


FOX Business' Christian de La Chappelle contributed to this report.