Update: PG&E confirms Wednesday blackout, now estimated to affect nearly 800,000

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. confirmed Tuesday afternoon it will proactively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers starting Wednesday morning, now estimating that close to 800,000 customers will be affected by the public safety shutoff event, which was prompted by critical fire weather conditions.

The utility on Monday night released a list of 30 counties – throughout the Sacramento Valley, the Bay Area, the North Bay and parts of the northern Sierra Nevada and foothills – that could each see anywhere from dozens to tens of thousands of customers lose power starting at about 4 a.m. Wednesday.

In an updated news release just before 1:30 p.m., “PG&E confirmed that it will implement a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) in portions of 34 northern, central and coastal counties, affecting electric service for nearly 800,000 customers.” The four additional counties are Marin, Humboldt, Trinity and Kern.

Michael Lewis, senior vice president of PG&E’s electric operations, said in a prepared statement that it could take “several days to fully restore power after the weather passes and safety inspections are completed.” Windy conditions are expected to last through midday Thursday.

PG&E has emphasized in recent weeks that full restoration of power requires visual inspection of all transmission and distribution lines throughout the affected areas.

Which cities, counties could be most impacted?

The planned shutoff event, as of Tuesday afternoon’s estimates by PG&E, will affect broad portions of the Sacramento Valley, the Bay Area and the North Bay. No shutoffs are expected for Sacramento County, but more than 100,000 customers could lose power in neighboring El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties.

Earlier Monday, the company confirmed it will shut down power to 5,791 Yolo County customers starting Wednesday, in portions of Winters, Esparto, Guinda, Capay, Brooks, Madison, Rumsey, Woodland, Davis, Dunnigan and Zamora.

PG&E says it will shut off power to 66,289 Sonoma County customers, including parts of Santa Rosa; to 51,641 customers in Placer County, including parts of Roseville, Rocklin, Auburn, Lincoln, Granite Bay, Loomis and Colfax; and to 51,284 customers in El Dorado County, including Placerville, El Dorado Hills, Pollock Pines, Cameron Park and Shingle Springs.

The utility may cut power to anywhere between about 30,000 and 45,000 customers in each of Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Napa, Nevada, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Tuolumne counties.

The long list includes scores of cities and unincorporated communities, but does not break down estimated customer counts by city. Other major Northern California cities that could see at least some customers lose power include San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, Chico, Santa Cruz, Redding, Fairfield and Vacaville.

The full list, including breakdowns by county, can be found on the company’s website.

How windy will it be?

Critical fire conditions are expected to reach California late Tuesday night through Thursday afternoon, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warnings covering almost all of Northern California.

Just after 10 a.m. Tuesday, the NWS upgraded a fire weather watch advisory for the Sacramento Valley to a red flag warning, saying in a tweet that this week’s weather is forecast to be the “strongest wind event of the season so far.”

North to northeast winds are expected to blow about 15 to 25 mph, but localized gusts could range from 35 to 45 mph or higher, according to the NWS. Low daytime humidity and poor humidity recovery overnight, combined with those gusty conditions, is creating the wildfire danger.

The NWS Bay Area and Reno offices have issued red flag warnings.

The Reno-area red flag warning is in effect from 2 p.m. Tuesday to 8 a.m. Wednesday, affecting primarily the Highway 395 corridor.

The Bay Area warning includes the Santa Cruz mountains, and both the hills and valleys in the North Bay and East Bay. That red flag warning is in place 5 a.m. Wednesday through 5 p.m. Thursday, with the “time period of greatest concern” coming late Wednesday through early Thursday, according to the NWS.

How long will power be out?

PG&E has emphasized that due to the magnitude of the potential shutdown and the time it would take to restore power given the necessary inspections that some affected customers could be without power for “several days.” More specific estimates are unlikely until a final decision is made whether and where power will be shut off. Estimated restoration date and time are labeled “To be announced” on PG&E’s power shutoff webpage as of Tuesday morning.

Tuesday afternoon’s estimates mean the upcoming shutoff will be by far the largest since PG&E began implementing the measure to mitigate wildfire risk.

PG&E’s first public safety power shutoff, on Oct. 14, 2018, remains the biggest the company has instituted so far, impacting about 59,000 customers in Lake and El Dorado counties.

What should you do to prepare?

Those in affected areas are urged to keep emergency supplies such as food, water, flashlights and first aid supplies readily available.

PG&E in social media posts reminded those who are planning to use a backup generator to make sure it is ready for safe use.

PG&E said in a Monday night news release that it is “planning to open Community Resource Centers across the affected areas” to support affect customers.

PG&E is opening more than two dozen resource centers starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday, the company said in Tuesday afternoon’s news release. A full list is available on the PG&E website.

The resource centers will be open during daytime hours, providing restrooms, bottled water, air conditioning and the opportunity to charge electronic devices.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.