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California Power Shutoff Is Causing Car Accidents

More than 1 million coping with no power as a safety precaution
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 10, 2019 11:26 AM CDT
California Power Shutoff Is Causing Car Accidents
Carlos Lama of Bayside Cafe, which was among businesses to lose power due to PG&E's shutoff, uses an LED lamp and light from his phone at the counter of the restaurant in Sausalito, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.   (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal via AP)

What a mess. More than 1 million people in California were without power Thursday, and the number might grow to 2 million before all is said and done. It's all part of a controversial move by PG&E to cut power in more than 30 counties as a safety precaution—authorities are worried that high winds could bring down live power lines and trigger wildfires. The first wave of shutoffs to 800,000 customers—and each "customer" might affect multiple people in a house or apartment—began Wednesday morning in Northern California, reports the AP. A second, smaller wave took place Wednesday night in the San Francisco Bay area. (See map at SFGate.) Details and coverage:

  • Perspective: "It was an extraordinary moment for California," writes Thomas Fuller at the New York Times. "In the state that brought the world the iPhone and the internet as most people know it, residents fumbled for flashlights, hauled jerrycans of gasoline and read instructions on how to manually open their automatic garage doors. In the fifth-largest economy in the world, hundreds of thousands of people were forced off the grid."

  • Traffic lights: "In the North Bay, where 141,000 residences and businesses had outages for most of Wednesday, cars collided in intersections where signals were out," per the San Francisco Chronicle. Traffic lights are indeed out in many locales, and drivers are asked to treat such intersections as four-way stops, per CNN. In more bad news for drivers, many gas stations are closed as well.
  • Anger: A PG&E office in Oroville was pelted with eggs, while a PG&E truck was hit by a bullet that shattered a window in Colusa County, though police can't say whether the latter incident is connected to the shutoffs. The truck was on Interstate 5 at the time, reports CBS Sacramento. The company put up barricades around its San Francisco headquarters.
  • Changes? The situation highlights the vulnerability of California's power grid, notes the Los Angeles Times. “Society has been delivering electricity the same way for 130 years—exposed lines on wood poles over dry grass,” David Rabbitt, a county supervisor in Sonoma County, tells the newspaper. “I think we know more now, certainly, and it’s time to actually move on with making the investments going forward.”
  • Possibilities: Those possibilities include more solar panels, wind generators, community microgrids, and "distinct power systems that can operate independent of massive utilities like PG&E, a behemoth that serves 16 million people spread across 70,000 square miles of Central and Northern California," per the LAT. Concrete utility poles and buried lines also are options.
  • Charging phones: PG&E has set up 30 or so "community centers" with phone charging stations, air conditioning, restrooms, and bottled water, reports CNN. Providers such as Sprint and T-Mobile have generators at major cell sites to keep phone service operating.
  • For how long? The shutoffs could continue for days, though a handful of regions already were seeing power returned. Authorities will reassess wind conditions on Friday. PG&E details on affected areas are here. To a lesser extent, Southern California may also be impacted as Southern California Edison considers its own power shutoff to as many as 174,000 customers; ABC 7 has a map here.
(More PG&E stories.)

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