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PG&E warns it may have to shut down power proactively again this week

With California customers still reeling from Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s Oct. 9-12 public safety power shutoffs, the utility announced that it may have to proactively cut electricity again starting Oct. 23 due to predictions of strong, dry winds.

Many of the approximately 209,000 customer accounts that may be impacted by any upcoming shutoffs are located in the same counties that were affected by the earlier outage.

PG&E on Oct. 21 announced that teams at its emergency operations center had been monitoring offshore winds and as a result began sending out 48-hour advance notifications to customers by email, text and automated phone calls indicating that the utility once again may have to take action to ensure that any damaged power lines and equipment do not ignite tinder dry vegetation and start wildfires.

Potential shutoffs are planned with varying start times depending on location in 15 counties — Amador, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Mateo, Sierra, Sonoma, Sutter and Yuba — in the Sierra Foothills and the North Bay.

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PG&E Senior Vice President Michael Lewis said sustained winds above 45 mph can down lower-voltage distribution lines, and winds above 50 mph have been known to damage higher-voltage transmission equipment. The utility said its meteorologists have determined that wind gusts may exceed 55 mph from late evening on Oct. 23 through the afternoon of Oct. 24 for portions of the Sierra Foothills and that gusts of 35 mph to 45 mph, and possibly up to 55 mph, may occur in some North Bay counties.

The state has designated high wildfire threat zones covering more than half of PG&E's 70,000-square-mile service area in Northern and Central California because of dry grass and dead and dying trees, the utility said. It noted that California's "high-risk areas have tripled in size in seven years."

While the goal following any shutoffs is to restore power within 48 hours, the company said, some outages could last longer because power restoration efforts cannot be made until after the winds die down. PG&E, therefore, asked customers to prepare for outages that could last several days.

During the Oct. 9-12 shutoff event, which impacted 738,000 customer accounts, PG&E found more than 100 places on its system where trees and limbs had to be removed from wires or other repairs had to be made before power could be restored.

Community resource centers will be opened Oct. 23 to provide impacted customers with restroom facilities, bottled water, air-conditioning and electronic device charging.

Mindful of criticism from state regulators about lack of coordination with local government agencies and customers during the previous event, the utility said it is strengthening its contact with counties, cities and tribal governments and has beefed up its website — — to accommodate high volumes of traffic.

Meanwhile, Edison International subsidiary Southern California Edison Co. on Oct. 22 said it does not anticipate having to implement power shutoffs over the next 48 hours. As of midday Oct. 22, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention was reporting relatively few brushfires and none of any significant size.

PG&E is a subsidiary of PG&E Corp.