Plastic barricades stand outside PG&E headquarters in downtown San Francisco on Wednesday, a move a spokesperson for the utility said was “not uncommon.”

Why S.F. remains spared as rolling planned PG&E outages continue

San Francisco isn’t expected to experience any planned outages this time around.

While cities throughout Northern California grapple with the effects of PG&E’s power outages which started early Wednesday, electricity in San Francisco is expected to continue to flow.

Approximately 513,000 customers in Northern and Central California had their power shut off early Wednesday as part of Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s planned outages — a measure the utility has taken to reduce the risk of electrical equipment sparking wildfires as red flag warnings were issued. The utility delayed some of the outages planned for noon, and was planning to start shutting off power in the East Bay and South Bay including Alameda, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties at about 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

San Francisco isn’t expected to experience any planned outages this time around, according to city officials and PG&E.

“Our City is not directly impacted by the current Public Safety Power Shutoff event because San Francisco is an urban environment that is not as susceptible to wildfires as other Bay Area counties,” said Francis Zamora, director of external affairs for the Department of Emergency Management.

Forecasts of high temperatures, low humidity and heightened wind speeds, among other factors, prompted PG&E to schedule the shutoffs. The outages are projected to impact more than 800,000 customers across 34 counties in Northern and Central California. Officials stressed Wednesday evening that they would abort the shutoffs should weather conditions change suddenly.

According to PG&E’s principal communications representative Kristi Jourdan, The City also benefits by not be connected to the grids of the affected locations. “San Francisco was not flagged for a potential shutoff and is currently not included in this Public Safety Power Shutoff event because the community is not served by lines located in areas impacted by the forecast. Although we did inform all five million electric customers they could be impacted by PSPS, we have said that customers in high fire threat areas would be more likely impacted.”

For areas that are impacted, PG&E warns it may take up to five days to restore power. This is due to the utility’s need to inspect equipment in affected areas before turning the power back on. Utility officials said about 800,000 customers are expected to be affected at any one time as power in some areas is restored, and shut off in others.

“It’s important for all customers to have an emergency plan to be prepared for any extended outages due to extreme weather or natural disasters,” Jourdan said.

People in impacted areas around the state have voiced frustration after going to PG&E’s website for information about the outage, only to find that it was not functioning properly.

PG&E opened community resource centers in affected areas with electricity and creature comforts. One was in the parking lot of Merritt College in the Oakland hills, where power was expected to be shut off sometime Wednesday evening.

A large tent was set up to provide shade, air conditioning and bottled water. Inside, there are chairs and tables with electrical outlets so people can charge their phones and devices.

Nany Safford, a resident of the Crown Ridge or Ridgemont neighborhood in Oakland came to the center to get the latest information about the outage.

Safford is unhappy with the phone number and website PG&E set up to disseminate information about the outage and said the utility has not been effective at getting the word out.

“Their map is not accurate,” Safford said.

Plastic barricades stand outside PG&E headquarters in downtown San Francisco on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

In other developments, on Wednesday afternoon, PG&E had placed barricades around the entrance to its San Francisco headquarters on Beale Street. When asked about the barricades and whether the utility had recieved threats, a spokesperson for the company said “our most important responsibility is the safety of our customers and the communities we serve and our employees.”

“With regard to the barricades in front of our San Francisco offices, it is not uncommon for us to do this to help our employees safely get where they need to go,” said PG&E spokesperson Kristi Jourdan in a statement. “Our employees are working hard to ensure that our system operates safely and that power will be restored quickly after the weather passes.”

Earlier Wednesday, the California Highway Patrol told multiple news outlets that a PG&E truck had possibly been shot at in Colusa County. The incident happened at around 8 p.m. Tuesday.

In response to the planned blackouts, Sen. Scott Wiener introduced Senate Bill 378 last month. According to Wiener’s statement, “SB 378 will put in place reasonable, commonsense mechanisms and financial incentives to ensure utilities’ planned blackouts are pursued with adequate prudence and that they only occur when necessary.”

No single factor drives a Public Safety Power Shutoff, Jourdan said.

PG&E reviews a combination of many criteria when determining if power should be turned off for safety, Jourdan said. These factors generally include: a Red Flag Warning declared by the National Weather Service; low humidity levels, generally 20 percent and below; forecasted sustained winds generally above 25 miles per hour and wind gusts in excess of approximately 45 miles per hour. Other factors include the terrain and condition of dry fuel and live vegetation.

Will Reisman of the SF Public Utilities Commission said his agency is monitoring PG&E’s planned power shutoffs in the Bay Area. Though some of The City’s utilities are near areas anticipating shutdowns, he said steps have been taken to avoid any disruption.

“We have regional water and power facilities near the areas of PG&E’s proposed shutdowns, and those systems have backup stationary generators with enough fuel onsite to continue operations for extended periods of time without PG&E power,” Reisman said. “We will continue to coordinate with our private and public partners over the near term, both to inform residents and businesses about the situation, and to ensure continuity of our critical services.”

Continuity of public transit is expected to continue amid the outages.

While some BART stations lie in areas affected by the shut offs, a spokesperson for the transit agency said BART can pull electricity from other parts of its system. Electricity needed to operate ticket machines, fare gates, escalators and elevators at affected stations would be supplied by portable generators installed Tuesday night in anticipation of the planned outages, according to BART officials.

Though San Francisco isn’t impacted by this round of shutoffs, Municipal Transportation Agency spokesperson Erica Kato said the SFMTA is prepared for planned and unplanned power outages.

“For short-term, localized power outages, we have generators,” Kato said. “For large-scale, prolonged power outages, we will shift to a strategic response plan including focusing on our motor coach fleet, and prioritizing routes to continue service strategically and efficiently.”

“The Department of Emergency Management is closely monitoring the current Public Safety Power Shutoff and remains in communication with city agencies, regional partners and PG&E,” Zamora said. “We will examine lessons learned from this event and look to continue to improve our plans and protocols.”

Staff Writer Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez and Bay City News contributed to this report

joe@sfexaminer.com

cmcfarland@sfexaminer.com

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