On the two-year anniversary of Santa Rosa’s Tubbs fire, PG&E confirmed Tuesday afternoon that it would turn off the power for nearly 800,000 customers across the state to reduce the risk of sparking wildfires.
But within an hour of the scheduled Oct. 9 shutoff in Santa Clara County, PG&E announced that it would delay turning off the electricity until the afternoon or evening due to changes in the weather forecast.
The Public Safety Power Shutoff warning has been issued for 34 counties—including Santa Clara County—and could start as early as this coming midnight when severe winds start to kick up. In Santa Clara County alone, 38,123 customers are expected to be impacted in parts of San Jose, Morgan Hill, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Milpitas, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Gilroy and Palo Alto.
“The safety of our customers and the communities we serve is our most important responsibility, which is why PG&E has decided to turn power off to customers during this widespread, severe wind event,” Michael Lewis, PG&E’s senior vice president of electric operations, said in a news release.“We understand the effects this event will have on our customers and appreciate the public’s patience as we do what is necessary to keep our communities safe and reduce the risk of wildfire.”
PG&E expects that high winds could last through midday Thursday. But residents in the South Bay should expect to have their power out for five to seven days afterwards, since PG&E has to inspect its equipment for damage before they flip the switch back on.
San Jose officials have been preparing for this kind of widespread outage for months.
Earlier this year, the California Public Utilities Commission gave PG&E the authority to unilaterally shut off electricity when fire risks ran high. In June, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and City Council members Sergio Jimenez, Raul Peralez and Pam Foley asked city staff to look examine San Jose’s energy resilience. The councilors set out a number of priorities that including investing in energy storage and micro-grids, identifying alternative power sources to PG&E’s and coordinating with the county and other local government agencies to protect vulnerable populations such as dialysis patients and senior citizens.
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, San Jose Deputy City Manager Kip Harkness advised residents to charge up their electronic devices, stock up on flashlights and batteries, fill up their gas tanks and make sure they have a radio on hand.
“There’s two main areas of the city that will be effected,” Harkness cautioned. “You can think of them as both being adjacent to our wildland interface. Primarily the East Side along the Diablo range and the foothills and the adjacent neighborhoods and in the south along Almaden Valley. Those are the two areas that have the most interface with wildlands and the distribution systems that overlay them will be the ones turned off.”
PG&E will open community resource centers across the state starting at 8am Wednesday. The designated center in the South Bay will be Avaya Stadium in San Jose, which will remain open during daylight hours only. Restrooms, bottled water, electronic-device charging stations, air conditioning and seats for 100 people.
San Jose will also designate three locations as resource centers at Southside, Mayfair and Camden community centers from 8am to 8pm. Water, power outlets and light snacks will be provided, as well as language assistance for Vietnamese and Spanish speakers. Harkness said that those are situated on the outskirts of the expected outage areas.
“We don’t know how people will react to it,” Harkness said of the impending shutoff. “In some level this is just a power outage, but we’ll be ready to scale up or bring other additional community centers online.”
In an advisory late Tuesday, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) said it will do its best to keep service running during the outage.
“We do not anticipate impacts to systems that power our light rail trains based on information PG&E is providing, but we are keeping a close watch,” agency spokeswoman Brandi Childress told reporters in an email. “This situation will be handled the same way we respond in any emergency, and that is to keep service running under external conditions while making sure we communicate any impacts to our customers as quickly as we can and through various channels.”
VTA officials recommended downloading the agency’s Transit App for real-time alerts, or to follow its social media accounts for up-to-date information. Updates will also be posted on the VTA’s Headways blog. Meanwhile, members of the public can direct questions to the VTA customer service line at 408.321.2300 or via email at [email protected].
Childress cautioned that if traffic lights go out, that could impact bus schedules. “We would ask that customers be patient, as the buses will be stuck in the same traffic as everyone else,” she said. “If traffic issues are severe, some bus lines may be re-routed although that is not the expectation at this time.”
VTA facilities likely to be affected by the power outage include the Eastridge Transit Center, where lights may go dark, and the Access Paratransit Center, which is also located near an area of potential power outages. “But we will have a backup power source to continue operations,” Childress said.
This article has been updated.