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Regional News: Expect more blackouts in California, PG&E says. But utility predicts smaller, shorter shutoffs

Posted by   /  February 8, 2020  /  No Comments

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Residents cope with blackouts in Auburn on the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, after Pacific Gas & Electric shut down power to more than 500,000 homes and businesses, creating the largest blackout in state history. /BY PAUL KITAGAKI JR.

By Dale Kasler  | Sacramento Bee

Make no mistake: PG&E Corp. will plunge Californians into darkness again this year if it thinks that will prevent another major wildfire.

But the utility said Friday it’s investing millions in personnel and technology to lessen the impact of its “public safety power shutoffs” and believes the 2020 blackouts won’t darken nearly as many homes as last year.

PG&E, which has 16 million customers around the state, filed an updated wildfire safety blueprint with the Public Utilities Commission, outlining plans for “hardening” its electric grid, improving its weather forecasting and trimming back more tree limbs that could spark fires.

Above all, PG&E expects it can make its deliberate blackouts — engineered when windstorms kick up and wildfire risk is high — less burdensome than last October, when outages affected millions of Northern Californians, infuriated Gov. Gavin Newsom, and still failed to prevent a major wildfire in Sonoma County.

This year’s blackouts should be “smarter, smaller and shorter,” said Matt Pender, a director of the utility’s wildfire safety program. “There’s been a lot of learning at PG&E from the last wildfire season.”

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