As Pacific Gas & Electric deliberately shut off power to homes and businesses to prevent wildfires, it has failed to communicate with California officials, given conflicting accounts about when the lights would go out and advised people to get information “the old-fashioned way, through calling on a landline.”
The behemoth power company is still struggling to get it right, weeks after it first started plunging millions of people into darkness to prevent strong winds from toppling its power lines and igniting fires.
PG&E’s widespread power outages have come in waves in October, sparking reprimands from state officials and growing anger as the blackouts stretch on for days in Northern California.
Caught in the middle are millions of customers forced to endure without the needs of modern life. About 900,000 people remained in the dark Wednesday, some since Saturday.
Celebrity chef Guy Fieri cooks for Sonoma County firefighters
“Northern California residents are exhausted. They’re fried. And this is completely unacceptable,” said state Sen. Mike McGuire, a Democrat who represents vast swaths of areas still in the dark. “Californians deserve better from this utility.”
Winds calmed down Wednesday, easing the dangerous fire conditions and allowing PG&E to shift its focus to getting the electricity back on.
But the pain moved south, where several fires broke out amid howling winds in the Los Angeles area and forced evacuations. The utility in the region, Southern California Edison, shut off power to 178,000 people.
California governor provides update on conditions of wildfires
Two powerful windstorms have pounded Northern California in less than a week, prompting PG&E to shut off the lights three times in one week and four times this month. But its equipment still may have ignited a massive blaze in Sonoma County wine country that has destroyed 94 homes and forced more than 150,000 people to flee.
PG&E faced crushing condemnation for its poor execution in the first widespread blackout Oct. 9 _ its website failed, and customers couldn’t get through by phone. People were confused about when and where the power would go out.
Local governments complained about the lack of communication before the Oct. 9 outage and filed reports with regulators. In a response filed Wednesday with the Public Utilities Commission, PG&E acknowledged “various, and in some cases, extreme, shortcomings, including failure of the website, and co-ordination with state local and tribal governments” during the shut-off.
But it said it has since updated its website “to provide helpful and useful information to the public.”
Many of its customers disagreed, saying it was difficult to get to a map of outages and find specifics on when the electricity would go off or come back on.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and smelled smoke. I wanted to use my phone to find if fire was nearby, but the battery was out, and without electricity, I couldn’t charge it,” Judy Keene said Monday.
How California needs to adapt to a new reality of wildfires
The Berkeley resident said her old-fashioned phone didn’t work either.
“I thought our landline would work,” Keene said. “That’s the reason we had a landline.”
Mark Quinlan, PG&E’s senior director of emergency preparedness and response, appeared stumped Tuesday night when asked how people should get information when the power is already out and many cellphone towers have stopped working.
“People could get the information from a website through family,” he suggested, “or they could just get it the old-fashioned way through calling on a landline.”
Fewer than half of U.S. households have a landline, accordi