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With Power Mostly Restored, PG&E Warns of Future Safety Shutoffs

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- All but one county in the Bay Area on Saturday morning had power fully restored to customers affected by PG&E's Public Safety Power Shutoff.

As of 7 a.m. Saturday, power was up and running for 98 percent of Santa Cruz County customers impacted by this week's shutoff, according to a PG&E spokeswoman.

For the rest of the region's eight counties, power was restored to 100 percent of customers.

Statewide, from the Sierra to Kern County, about 738,000 customers were impacted by the power shutdown.

The dry windy weather that triggered the power shutoffs included wind gusts of more than 70 miles per hour in some areas, from Wednesday evening into Thursday morning.

Company representatives admitted at a Friday-evening press conference they weren't fully prepared for this week's safety power shutdown. High winds are in the forecast as soon as next weekend, which means another shutoff is possible.

"If an event occurs six days from now, it's probably going to look a lot like this one," said PG&E CEO Bill Johnson. He admitted that the utility was not adequately prepared to handle communicating with customers during the shutoff that impacted almost every county in the Bay Area.

"I think the operational piece of this -- turning the power off, turning it on -- went very well. It's the support around it that we weren't prepared for and that's where you'll see the improvement," Johnson said.

He stressed the utility plans to continue the safety shutdowns. He says they are improving public safety and points to the fact that, as of 5:00 p.m. Friday, PG&E crews found 30 incidents of system damage along lines that were de-energized. The utility shared photos of broken tree limbs tangled in power lines or lines coming down completely.

PG&E said 21 of those instances were in the East Bay or South Bay, four were in the North Bay and the rest were in the Sierra foothills.

"If those lines had been energized, we had the potential for numerous instances of ignition," Johnson said.

California's Public Utilities Commission expressed concern that PG&E could be using the power shutoffs in retaliation for the PUC holding the company liable for billions of dollars in damage from recent wildfires.

"The idea that we did this for any other reason than safety is wrong. There's no punitive action here. This is a purely weather-related safety event," Johnson said, when asked about the issue.

If the winds do pick up over the weekend, Johnson said the company has learned some tough lessons from this most recent safety shutoff and will do better next time.

"Better notification, narrowing of the scope, website that works no matter how much traffic is on it -- these are the kinds of things we can really improve on quickly," Johnson said.

PG&E is working on technology to narrow down how many customers see shutoffs during high wind events in the future but it could be up to a year or more before all of that tech is online.

© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. KPIX 5's Katie Nielsen and Bay City News contributed to this report

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