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PG&E rolls out new measures to limit impacts of wildfire-related power shutoffs


In this October 2019 file photo, the Taco Bell off Highway 178/Kern Canyon Road was closed due to a wildfire-based PG&E power shutoff.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced this week it is taking a variety of steps to limit the impact wildfire-related power shutoffs have on its customers in Kern County and elsewhere.

The San Francisco-based utility this week unveiled two sets of measures, one aimed at providing things like snacks, water and air-conditioning to people going without power because of an emergency shutoff. The other is intended to make these power outages shorter, less frequent and "smarter" for its customers.

Last year, after being found legally liable for damage from wildfires caused by its equipment, PG&E initiated nine Public Safety Power Shutoffs across the state during particularly hot, dry or windy conditions. Three of these PSPS events affected people and businesses in Kern.

So far this year, PG&E has not had to shut off power to any customers across its coverage area.

PG&E said it has installed a "sectionalizing device" capable of isolating shutoffs in Kern County and minimizing geographic areas affected by shutoffs.

The company, which serves the valley portion of Kern but not the nearby mountain areas, said it also set up seven weather stations around the county to forecast conditions and four cameras to keep an eye on potential wildfire risks.

PG&E spokeswoman Katie Allen said the goal of installing the equipment was to make PSPS events "smaller in size, shorter in length and smarter for our customers."

"We know that we need to improve this year and appreciate the community's partnership as we all work to prevent wildfires," Allen added in a news release.

Separately, and in response to feedback from customers and communities across its territory, the utility announced Tuesday it will take a new approach to rolling out community resource centers serving people affected by PSPS events.

It unveiled three different kinds of resource centers that can be made available to affected communities during shutoffs.

One, known as outdoor micro-CRCs, will give out "grab-and-go" bags with water, snacks and information cards at open-air tents situated near areas left without power. The tents will offer on-site charging only to electronic devices that serve medical needs.

In other places PG&E plans to deploy mobile CRCs that operate out of a Sprinter van. It said these, too, will distribute grab-and-go bags and charging for medical devices.

It said the largest option, indoor CRCs, will be located in community centers or other existing buildings. With available air-conditioning and heating, these centers will have physically distanced tables and chairs where customers can relax, as well as hand-washing stations, restrooms and on-site charging for devices including personal electronics.

Staff at these centers will be trained to follow COVID-19 health and safety guidelines and will regularly sanitize surfaces, making sure there is sufficient capacity for customers to stay socially distanced.

"We've worked with counties, cities and tribal communities to locate CRCs where it makes the most sense during a PSPS event, and we've worked with medical experts to put COVID-19 protections in place for the health and safety of our customers and CRC staff," said PG&E Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Laurie Giammona.

A Kern County spokesperson did not reply for a request for comment.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf