Pacific Gas and Electric announced at about 1 p.m. PST that power had been restored to 543,000 customers, representing 74 percent of those who had been without power. On Wednesday, the utility intentionally cut power to residents in parts of 22 Northern California counties including portions of the San Francisco Bay Area, although the city itself was spared.
Estimates regarding the total number of residents reported affected range from 800,000 to more than a million, according to CNN and the LA Times.
About 312,000 people were reportedly still in the dark.
The utility, the state’s largest with 16 million Northern California customers, explained the electricity shut-offs as an effort to prevent the sparking of wildfires from live power lines at risk of being downed from extremely dry high-wind conditions.
On Thursday, California Governor Gavin Newsom called the outages “unacceptable” and slammed the investor-owned utility, which filed for bankruptcy in January due to potentially more than $30 billion in wildfire liabilities, for years of chronic mismanagement and neglect. As mentioned in the LA Times, he squarely blamed the utility’s failure to maintain its electrical system as the real cause of precautionary outages.
While the news media has increasingly started to draw connections between climate change and extreme weather events, Newsom countered that this situation was not about climate change, but about corporate greed.
According to a New York Times report, the company’s equipment has been at least partially responsible for five of the ten most destructive California wildfires since 2015.
The Times reported that in many cases regulators found the utility had violated state law or didn’t do enough to mitigate fire risk. The utility has faced widespread criticism for this and has been accused of having a “broken safety culture.”
An internal company email revealed that some of the company’s electrical structures were potentially at risk of collapse in an area known for high winds where 85 people tragically lost their lives in last autumn’s Camp Fire, the deadliest in state history which destroyed the town of Paradise outside Sacramento, according to CNN.
Responding to criticism, Bill Johnson, who joined PG&E in April as chief executive, said that he was focused on the utility’s future, not its past.
“I haven’t delved into all those matters,” Johnson said.
While the dry winds have eased in the northern portion of the state, they’ve migrated to Southern California where the Saddleridge Wildfire rages along the northern edge of Los Angeles. Southern California Edison cut power yesterday to about 24,000 people yesterday in four Southern California counties and warned of more widespread outages as the Santa Ana winds intensify.