PG&E slightly dials back scope of Wednesday’s potential power blackout

If PG&E Corp. goes ahead with a power shutdown on Wednesday, it will affect slightly fewer people than the 209,000 households and businesses that the utility estimated on Monday.

At a Tuesday evening press conference, PG&E officials said they now are looking at a blackout affecting up to 189,000 customers across 16 counties. If, that is, any blackout is necessary due to gusting winds and the threat of a major wildfire.

That decision will be made Wednesday morning.

In the event of a shutdown, “we will continue to monitor weather forecast models as they arrive and we will monitor the wind event as it unfolds and monitor more than 600 weather stations to issue a potential all clear for the north half of California about noon Thursday and for Kern county about noon Friday,” said Bill Johnson, PG&E’s president and CEO.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Johnson addressed criticism from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has been in discussion with the California Public Utilities Commission and recently suggested the utility company reimburse customers.

“We share the governor’s focus on public safety and preventing catastrophic wildfire in our state, and that’s the sole intent of the (Public Safety Power Shutoff) program,” Johnson said.

“We’ve absorbed the feedback we’ve received from the governor’s office, state agencies, and our customers and communities from the last event,” he said. “We take those suggestions seriously and we’re working to incorporate them this week and into later PSPS events.”

Johnson said one of the improvements the company hoped to make included the ability of its website to handle high traffic in the days ahead. The website was inaccessible on Tuesday between 7 and 8 a.m.

PG&E said its forecasts continue to indicate hot, dry and windy weather in portions of its service areas, including the Sierra foothills, the North Bay, as well as small sections of San Mateo, Mendocino and Kern counties.

Mark Quinlan, PG&E’s deputy incident commander, said the conditions that would lead to a blackout are expected to start at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Planned outages would begin at 2 p.m. for the Sierra foothills, 3 p.m. in the North Bay, and at 1 a.m. Thursday for San Mateo and Kern counties.

Mitchel Bobo covers breaking news for The Bee and is a journalism student at Sacramento State. He was born on Travis Air Force Base and raised in Vacaville.