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by Jeff St. John
May 16, 2019

Last week, California’s investor-owned utilities launched a media campaign to inform the state’s residents that tens of thousands of them — or perhaps millions, nobody knows for sure — could face hours, or days, without electricity this summer.

It’s the latest development in a long-running effort, being reluctantly pushed by California regulators, wildfire liability-bankrupted Pacific Gas & Electric and the state’s other investor-owned utilities, to drastically expand the scope of so-called public safety power shutoff events — i.e., de-energizing the grid to prevent it from starting deadly wildfires.

Most of the attention so far has been on PG&E’s plan, which came with a warning that it could be forced to leave its entire 5 million electric customers without power if it’s forced to power down transmission lines crossing areas of fire risk. That’s a drastic expansion of a program that’s been used at only limited scale before.

Although a worst-case scenario, PG&E’s projection indicates the potential for forced blackouts at a scale California hasn’t seen since its 2000-2001 energy crisis.