One week ago, PG&E (California electric utility) cut power to about 2 million people in Northern and Central California, saying the outages were needed due to high winds and dry conditions that could spark wildfires. The power was for days for many customers and 12-24 hours for most of the rest.
The wind gusts only reached about 40 mph in some areas. Many areas that had power cutoff with very little wind. Wind speeds were averaging 5-15 mph.
The number of power shutoffs will decline over the next decade as PG&E reroutes the electric grid so it can shut off power to smaller areas, invests in microgrids to keep power on during emergencies and updates thousands of miles of power lines in fire-prone areas.
The power shutoff cost businesses and customers billions of dollars. Some restaurants, grocery stores and ice cream shops each lost tens of thousands of dollars in business and spoiled goods.
Long-term widespread power outages cost businesses and people billions of dollars. The SF Bay Area has a GDP of about $900 billion. Disrupting all business for an entire day would be $2.5 billion. The PG&E outage affected about 30% of the Bay Area for extended times.
There is also the risk to the lives of people who depend upon medical equipment. The communication of the outage was poorly handled.
This level of minor “wind events” will likely mean one to four major shutoffs every year for fourteen years.
In Florida a few days ago, nearly 10,000 customers were left without power, vehicles were turned over and a middle school was severely damaged after a tornado touched down in central Florida on Friday night, as rain and high winds from Tropical Storm Nestor battered the state. At 1 p.m. ET, Nestor’s winds were 45 mph, down from maximum sustained winds of 60 mph Friday evening.
PG&E had less wind and the PG&E outage affected 200 times more people than the Florida Tropical storm.
Sumeet Singh, vice president of PG&E’s community wildfire safety program, estimated that it could take 10 to 14 years for PG&E to finish updating about 7,100 miles of power lines in high fire risk areas, and 8 years to improve vegetation management on 25,000 miles of lines in high-risk areas.