Lights Go Out for Hundreds of Thousands of Californians

October 10, 2019

Tens of thousands of households and businesses went dark in California overnight. Unprecedented power outages are sweeping across the state as the utility company Pacific Gas & Electric leverages the blackouts to try and prevent wildfires from spreading.

With strong winds forecast for California mixed with hot and dry conditions, PG&E is taking the precautionary move to curb wildfire risk by shutting off power to thousands. About 700,000 northern and central California households and businesses saw a blackout Wednesday.

“The power will be turned off to communities in stages, depending on local timing of the severe wind conditions, beginning with counties in the northern part of the state,” PG&E said in a statement. Most of the blackouts should last through most of Thursday, but PG&E also warned that getting the power fully restored could take “five days or longer” in some areas. By turning off power, PG&E prevents high-tension power transmission lines from overheating, which can ignite leaves and brush caught on the wires or nearby if the lines break.

A power blackout can have widespread implications beyond day-to-day inconvenience. For real estate pros, it can cost them a productive day at work. It can also take time to get business back up once power is restored, too. Price Waterhouse research estimated that a power outage to a company’s IT systems can be time-consuming in recovery. Thirty-three percent of companies take more than a day to recover; 10% take more than a week.

The economic impact of a blackout could range from $65 million to $2.5 billion, estimated Michael Wara, head of the climate and energy policy program at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, in talking to The Wall Street Journal.

The unprecedented response by a power company is aimed at preventing a repeat of last year’s deadly wildfires that blazed across the state. In November of 2018, Paradise, Calif., became one of the epicenters to the devastation of wildfires, as its town was set ablaze and prompted thousands to flee. It became the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history.