(Forbes) – Topline: Half a million California residents are facing another round of power outages by Wednesday night, as embattled utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) works to prevent wildfires amid a possible buyout by a group of cities, led by San Jose.
- High offshore winds and dry conditions in the Sierra Foothills and North Bay have made those areas susceptible to wildfires, according to PG&E.
- In order to prevent its equipment from coming into contact with dry vegetation and sparking fires, PG&E said it could shut off power for half a million people by Wednesday night.
- PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said this week’s shutoff should be an improvement over the October 9 shutoff, which it was roundly criticized for.
- Meanwhile, San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo said that PG&E, an investor-owned company, could be bought by a group of cities and transformed into a customer-owned nonprofit, a proposal first reported October 21 by the Wall Street Journal.
- PG&E said it’s not for sale, but it also said it could impose blackouts for another decade while it works to upgrade its equipment.
- California officials said the outages cause public safety and health issues, while PG&E insisted that they are necessary to prevent more wildfires.
Key background: About 2 million Californians were affected by power shutoffs in similar weather conditions last week. As a result, the PG&E website crashed and grocery stores and gas stations were mobbed by residents rushing to prepare. PG&E, which filed for bankruptcy protection in January, previously said it was “probable” its equipment caused the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people. (California officials later determined PG&E’s equipment caused the Camp Fire.) In September, PG&E implemented two shutoffs to prevent wildfires, but those affected fewer than 50,000 customers. It also reached an $11 billion settlement that month with insurance companies that included claims from the 2017 Northern California wildfire and the Camp Fire.
Tangent: There are over 900 customer-owned utilities in the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal. And they are some of the most innovative, with low-cost, high-speed broadband internet access in addition to low-cost electricity.