Millions of Californians braced themselves to stay in the dark – some for five days or more – while the nation's largest utility said it was turning off power again on Tuesday to prevent high winds from damaging its equipment and causing more fires.
Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. He said his latest blackout will begin on Tuesday and will affect 605,000 customers – about 1.5 million people – in 29 northern California counties. The announcement came even before the last blackout ended, which disrupted the power of more than 2.5 million people. It was unclear whether the energy, which many left on Saturday, would be restored before the next round of interruptions.
What became clear was that patience was running out and frustration with the company was mounting. From the northern suburbs of San Francisco to the wine country, people searched for places on Monday to carry phones and stocked ice for non-perishable food.
High winds were causing several fires throughout California and deliberate interruptions were made to prevent fires. Teams are fighting a huge fire in the Sonoma County wine region that destroyed 96 buildings.
Petaluma resident Scotty Richardson, whose lights went out on Saturday, said the prospect that energy could not be restored for days made him "furious, furious."
Richardson was eating breakfast on Monday, carrying the phone and making business calls at the Lumberjacks restaurant in Petaluma. He expressed frustration with the roller coaster of interruptions over and over, but also angry at the company's role in causing deadly fires in the past, and apparently sparking some of this season's fires.
"PG&E can't figure out how to deliver power reliably without killing people," he said. "It's more than three strikes – it's a failure of epic proportions."
Richardson and his fiance run a business away from home, so "it's imperative that we have electricity. Everything is done through a computer or telephone," he said. Chilled foods have spoiled, and he fears that ongoing interruptions may lower property values.
"This has been a big inconvenience," he said. "This can't be the new normal."
PG&E has come under heavy financial pressure after its equipment has been blamed for a series of destructive fires over the past three years. Its shares fell 24% on Monday to close at $ 3.80 and have fallen more than 50% since Thursday.
Many Californians are skeptical about PG&E's blackout motives, and feel that the company is more concerned with its finances than the huge inconvenience it is causing.
"It's so obvious that it's just to protect them from more responsibility," said Janet Luoma of Santa Rosa at a Red Cross evacuation shelter.
At the Santa Rosa shelter, Chris Sherman plugged his laptop into a power outlet and charged the phone while he waited for the clear to come home, anticipating that once he did, he might lose power.
"They don't seem to know what the hell they are doing," he said of PG&E. "I'm not sure they are really protecting anything."
The company reported last week that a transmission tower may have caused a fire in Sonoma County that forced about 200,000 people to evacuate.
PG&E said on Monday its power lines may have started two wildfires over the weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area, although there are widespread blackouts to prevent downed lines from making dangerous winds.
The fires described in PG&E reports to state regulators coincide with the flames that destroyed a tennis club and forced evacuations at Lafayette, about 20 miles east of San Francisco.
The fires started in a part of town where PG&E chose to keep the lights on. The sites were not considered to be at high risk of fire, the company said.
In Lafayette, where many people lost power on Saturday, people criticized PG&E for poorly communicating about the shutdowns.
"We're getting power tomorrow, aren't we getting power tomorrow? We don't know," said Kelly Bitzer, who arrived at a Safeway supermarket on Monday looking for an outlet to charge her phone.
"PG&E has spent millions of dollars giving its executives bonuses, but they can't keep up with their infrastructure needs," she said. "It's very frustrating."
More than 900,000 energy customers – about 2.5 million people – were in the dark at the height of the latest planned blackout, almost all in PG&E territory in northern and central California. By Monday night, just under half of them were back.
Southern California Edison cut power to about 800 people on Monday night and warned that it was considering disconnecting more than 400,000 as the wind returns midweek. The company also faced a growing backlash from regulators and legislators.
US Representative Josh Harder, a Democrat from Modesto, said he plans to introduce legislation that would raise PG&E taxes if it paid bonuses to executives while participating in blackouts.
The Utility Commission plans to open a formal investigation into blackouts next month, allowing regulators to gather evidence and question company employees. If the rules are broken, they can impose fines of up to $ 100,000 per violation per day, said Terrie Prosper, a commission spokeswoman.
The commission said on Monday that it also plans to revise blackout rules, will seek to prevent utilities from charging customers when the power is off, and will call on experts to find improvements to the network that can reduce blackouts during the fire season. next year.
The state cannot continue to face widespread blackouts, "nor should Californians be subject to the poor execution that PG&E in particular exhibited," said Marybel Batjer, chairman of the California Utilities Commission, in a statement.
PG&E has created what it calls Community Resource Centers in areas affected by power outages, where people can charge phones and laptops, get water, snacks, flashlights and solar lanterns for free. In one of them in Berkeley, a few dozen people were sitting Monday morning carrying their phones, comparing interruption stories and seeking information.
"Any words when we're going to get power?" asked Renata Polt, 87 years old. She said she hoped the energy could be gone for a day and felt "dismay and anger" at the prolonged interruption.
Cell phone coverage in parts of Berkeley was very uneven during the outage, and residents said they heard it because cell phone towers had no backup power.
"It's like, really? No one thought of that?" said Alexandra Cons, who lost her home in a 1991 deadly fire that hit the Berkeley Hills. This week's fierce winds combined with total darkness during the blackout were strong for her.
"It's hard for me to separate the interruption and the strong winds from the possibility of losing my home again," she said. "Too many traumatic memories."
Gecker reported in Berkeley and Lafayette, California. Associated Press writer Johnathan J. Cooper reported in Phoenix.
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