MENDOCINO CO., 7/22/22 — Recent fires near Boonville and Laytonville in the midst of high temperatures and dry days are a reminder that fire risks are increasing. Planned outage season is rarely far behind and utilities want to remind customers to update their contact information so they can get critical alerts.
Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), along with other California utilities such as Southern California Edison, are authorized to deenergize power lines during periods of extreme fire danger, a procedure they call a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS). This includes high heat and low-humidity conditions with strong winds, during which the National Weather Service (NWS) may issue a red flag warning. PG&E relies on forecasts to predict when it may be necessary to shut off power, and is required to notify customers when they may be at risk or are in a planned outage block.
How to make sure you are notified:
Customers with active PG&E accounts, including those PG&E administers for Sonoma Clean Power customers, will be contacted automatically in connection with any planned power shutoffs. They should make sure their contact information with PG&E is current by logging into their accounts online and following the prompts, or calling PG&E at 1-800-743-5000. PG&E will call and text with information about outages. County residents can also sign up with MendoAlert for more public safety information, including evacuation warnings and other alerts.
It is not necessary to receive the power bill to get outage notifications at a specific location. If a bill goes to someone such as a landlord, it is still possible to get an “Address Alert” from PG&E by going to pge.com/addressalert. This service is also available for households with multiple members who need notifications, those who want to check in on loved ones, or people who need to keep track of conditions at their businesses. It is necessary to re-enroll every year, so those who signed up prior to June 2022 need to sign up again.
PG&E provides additional supports for Medical Baseline customers who receive a discount on their electricity to offset the costs of powering medical equipment. This assistance for planned outages includes portable batteries for qualifying customers who rely on medical equipment for survival. North Coast Energy Services, which also provides payment assistance for low-income households, is PG&E’s Mendocino County partner in this program. PG&E also maintains a checklist of recommended emergency preparedness tips for ventilator users and others with life-sustaining energy needs. In addition to standard texts and calls, Medical Baseline customers will receive a doorknock if they fail to respond to attempts at outreach.
Disabled and medically fragile customers — referred to by state emergency planners as those with Access and Functional Needs — can also call 211 or text “PSPS” to 211-211 for information and assistance before, during, and after outages.
By cutting power, utilities hope to prevent fires by limiting line breaks, transformer malfunctions, and other issues in conditions of peak danger. A Wall Street Journal analysis identified 1,500 fires between 2014 and 2017 caused by PG&E. In April 2022, the utility agreed to a $55 million settlement for damages caused by the 2021 Dixie Fire and 2019 Kincade Fire, both determined to be caused by faulty PG&E equipment. PG&E also caused the infamous 2018 Camp Fire.
After extensive PSPS shutoffs in 2019, the Public Utilities Commission held the utility accountable for “flawed implementation,” citing poor noticing practices, website outages, and failure to transmit data securely to public safety partners. The utility has made a number of adjustments to the system since, but consumers — especially in the tinderboxes of Mendocino County — should plan ahead.
PG&E updates its PSPS information site regularly in advance of and during outages: https://pgealerts.alerts.pge.com/updates/ You can also find the company’s weather forecasts online here, as well as a specific webpage for planned power shutoff forecasts here.