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PG&E Is Cutting Power for Thousands as Fire Risk Looms

Mark Chediak and Dan Murtaugh

(Bloomberg) -- PG&E Corp., the California utility giant that filed for bankruptcy protection in January facing crippling wildfire liabilities, is cutting power to about 27,500 customers in Northern California to keep electrical equipment from sparking a blaze amid dry and windy weather.

The power shut off across three counties started Monday afternoon, the San Francisco-based company said in a statement. Earlier PG&E said the outage could impact as many as 124,000 customers in nine counties, which would have made it the company’s largest preemptive power shutoff to date.

PG&E and other California utilities have been taking more aggressive measures to keep equipment from sparking blazes after fallen power lines ignited a series of catastrophic blazes across the state in 2017 and 2018. One of PG&E’s lines started the deadliest fire in California history in 2018, forcing the company to file for Chapter 11.

PG&E said the shutoff impacts Butte, Nevada, Yuba counties in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The utility said it’s monitoring conditions in nine counties for Tuesday, where it could conduct additional shutoffs on that day.

Earlier preemptive shutoffs have drawn criticism from state lawmakers and city officials, including the mayor of San Jose, California. They’ve raised concerns about impacts on businesses, emergency operations and vulnerable populations such as the elderly and disabled. The company earlier on Monday estimated the outage would affect about 21,000 customers, but said it revised that figure higher after it added two transmission lines to the shutoff because of “increased vegetation concerns.”

PG&E made a similar decision in June, cutting off power to as many as 27,000 customers in the Sierra Foothills as high winds threatened to knock down electrical lines. It also shut power in October to about 60,000 homes and businesses.

PG&E says it has been working with state and city officials and first responders to coordinate efforts. The utility has opened community resource centers for customers in areas that may be impacted by a shutoff Monday.

Hot, dry and windy weather -- the kind conducive to wildfires -- will persist from about 8 p.m. local time Monday to 9 a.m. Tuesday, and again from 7 p.m. Tuesday to 10 a.m. Wednesday, according to PG&E.

(Updates outage figures in first and fifth paragraphs.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Mark Chediak in San Francisco at mchediak@bloomberg.net;Dan Murtaugh in Singapore at dmurtaugh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ramsey Al-Rikabi at ralrikabi@bloomberg.net, Joe Ryan, Carlos Caminada

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