After Kern County customers experienced their first public safety power shutoff of 2020 by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the threat of future shutoffs is likely to remain throughout the remainder of wildfire season, according to Katie Allen, local marketing and communications manager for PG&E.
About 638 PG&E customers in the area of Lebec, near Stallion Springs, Iimon and an area south of Highway 178 lost power on Tuesday evening along with about 172,000 others throughout the state, according to PG&E’s outage map. Power was successfully restored around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Allen said.
“Kern was able to meet all of the criteria we set out for our 2020 (public safety power shutoff) event,” Allen said. “No significant damage or necessary repairs were found to our electrical infrastructure. It was a seamless event in Kern.”
She said that PG&E utilized helicopters and ground crews to assess their infrastructure before reenergizing these areas out of an abundance of safety concerns. PG&E had a helicopter in the air at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday inspecting lines, Allen said.
The shutoffs were prompted by various weather conditions that heightened the threat of wildfires throughout the state.
“It was necessary because of the significant risk posed by the dry hot weather with strong winds and dry vegetation,” Allen said.
Kern County was put into an “elevated watch” on Saturday during the day, a “watch” on Saturday night and Sunday, and a “warning” on Monday, Allen said. She said Kern County residents impacted by the outages were first given notices 48 hours ahead of time, 24 hours and an hour before the outages.
She said the areas that are impacted by the shutoffs are determined by assessing CalFire’s high fire risk map, however, their entire service area is monitored and considered.
“(Public safety power shutoffs are) only as a last resort when people’s safety, lives, homes and businesses might be in danger of significant wildfires,” Allen said. “We understand these are disruptive but we will not compromise when it comes to the safety of our customers in the communities we serve.”
A community resource center was set up at the Lebec Post Office on Tuesday and was open until 10 p.m. on Wednesday. The center is located outdoors, is ADA-accessible, has restrooms, hand-washing stations, device charging, Wi-Fi, bottled water and snacks.
County government opened its cooling center in Lebec on Wednesday as an additional relief option for impacted residents, according to Megan Person, spokesperson for the county.
Southern California Edison also began initiating public safety power shutoffs as recently as Wednesday, however, no customers in Kern County were impacted. Taelor Bakewell, a spokesperson for SoCal Edison, said they began putting out notices on Saturday due to weather conditions.
She said that public safety power shutoffs are a reality year-round, whether it is wildfire season or not.
“We don’t put a date on it,” Bakewell said. “We monitor the weather closely and make determinations that way.”
Many southern parts of Kern County in the mountains and in the Sierra National Forest are listed on SoCal Edison’s high risk fire areas.
About 32 people impacted by the shutoffs locally were considered “medical baseline,” meaning they rely on electricity for some sort of critical life saving medical treatment, according to Allen. She said that PG&E is not requiring a doctor’s note due to the pandemic, however, she advised customers in need go further than just applying and enrolling themselves in the program.
“Being enrolled is not enough because of the wide ranging medical conditions that are covered and we want people to reach out to us to let us know what (medical equipment) they’re using,” Allen said.
PG&E has created a new outage map for customers to use at https://pgealerts.alerts.pge.com/outages/map/. Allen said that they are working to make these shutoff events “smaller, shorter and smarter.”
“We want people to be aware, be prepared and have a plan,” Allen said. “Plan for medical needs, identify back-up charging methods, make sure to have working flashlights and fresh batteries.”