500k PG&E customers may lose power as San Jose revolts with buyout proposal

Pacific Gas & Electric may be shutting off the power for a lot of people in California again.

The utility announced that it may need to do another "public safety" outage to prevent wildfires -- less than two weeks after it did the same thing to 2 million Californians -- much to the frustration of residents and officials. This potential new power outage could impact up to 500,000 people.

PG&E began notifying customers Monday that it could begin precautionary shutoffs to parts of 16 counties as early as Wednesday, mostly in the Sierra foothills and to the north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Any blackouts would last at least 48 hours, the utility said. The utility is concerned that winds forecast to hit 60 mph at times could throw branches and debris into power lines or topple them, sparking wildfires.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) employees work above the Caldecott Tunnel in Oakland, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

"The sole intent is to prevent a catastrophic wildfire caused by a spark from electrical equipment," PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said at a Monday press conference. "In high winds, electrical equipment is more susceptible to damage … and with high winds and dry conditions and plenty of dead and dying grass and trees, our communities are at much higher risk from rapid fire spread. So that’s what we want to avoid, and we’re serious about that."

On the heels of a similar proposal in San Francisco, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said Monday that the third biggest city in the state is considering multiple options -- including buying out PG&E and turning it into a nonprofit cooperative -- to better serve the electricity needs of its constituents, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In an op-ed in the newspaper, Liccardo wrote of the most recent PG&E "public safety" power outages, using a line from the movie "Chariots of Fire": "I've seen better organized riots."


The Associated Press contributed to this report.