Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) historic blackout plunging hundreds of thousands of customers into darkness last week was a massive communication breakdown that sparked criticism over the two-day blackout that was designed to avoid wildfires, reported The New York Times.
PG&E officials said over the weekend that most of the power had been restored to everyone except for 2,500 customers across several Bay Area counties and promised to fix communication channels with customers.
“We’ll get better in the next month and better in the next year,” PG&E CEO Bill Johnson said Saturday.
“Communication to customers, coordination with state agencies, website availability, call center staff, that’s where you will see short-term improvements.”
Last Wednesday, PG&E triggered rolling blackouts for nearly 735,000 homes and or businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area amid the threat of strong winds and dry conditions that would’ve damaged transmission wires and sparked dangerous wildfires, similar to what was seen last year. Most of the residents were restored by Friday afternoon, but 99.5% of its customers saw full power by Saturday.
The shutdown caused widespread confusion about the planned power outage, and according to some experts, billions of dollars in economic losses were sustained by local businesses during the two-day blackout.
PG&E’s website and communication network that relayed essential data about the blackouts crashed, leaving many without details about what was happening.
“There were definitely missteps,” said Elizaveta Malashenko, a spokesperson for the state Public Utilities Commission who was in the PG&E control center. “It’s pretty much safe in saying, this did not go well.”
PG&E’s approach to shutdown various grids during a powerful windstorm that hit the Bay Area was never tried before, nor such failure in attempting to manage a controlled blackout and effectively communicate what was happening customers.
“Today marks an unprecedented turn in the history of electricity in California,” State Senator Jerry Hill, chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy, Utilities and Communications, said in a letter on Wednesday to the utilities commission. “This situation is not acceptable nor sustainable.”
— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) October 11, 2019
Johnson said crews inspected 25,000 miles of line across the state after the windstorm passed. PG&E confirmed that at least 50 poles and power lines were damaged during the storm, which could have triggered wildfires considering the dry conditions.
“Had that line not be de-energized,” he said, it could have led to a “catastrophic outcome.”
Bay Area customers are furious with PG&E for its rolling blackout that plunged hundreds of thousands into darkness, along with crashed communication networks that left many ill-informed.
— WSJ Photos (@WSJphotos) October 14, 2019
And judging by PG&E’s latest defensive tactic to thwart wildfires during windstorms, it appears Bay Area customers could expect more rolling blackouts in the future. Maybe next time, PG&E can communicate more effectively before the next outage. Nevertheless, Bay Area residents should seriously consider diesel generators.