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PG&E Begins Restoring Power In North Bay, Sierra Foothills; Plans New Weekend Shutdowns

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- PG&E on Thursday gave a weather "all clear" to customers affected by its Public Safety Power Shutoff that began Wednesday in the North Bay and Sierra foothills above Interstate Highway 80.

The utility company has begun restoring power in the affected areas.

Customers in San Mateo County got an all clear late Thursday morning when wind conditions improved, and the utility company will monitor conditions in Kern County where windy weather is expected to continue into Friday.

The power shutoff affected 179,000 PG&E customers in 17 counties.

PG&E said it expects all customers will have power by Friday night or sooner pending any damage found during inspections of its electric system.

The restoration starting Thursday entails deploying 5,800 on-the-ground field personnel and 42 helicopters, but helicopter inspections may be impacted by the 10,000-acre Kincade Fire in the Geyserville area of Sonoma County that started Wednesday night.

As of around 10 p.m., officials said that power was about 81% restored to customers in Sonoma County. The counties out of the 17 that didn't have power fully restored Thursday evening were: El Dorado (95%), Kern (0%), Napa (76%), Mendocino (97%), Nevada (91%), Sierra (59%), Tehama (52%) and Yuba (90%).

PG&E said the Kincade Fire broke out in the vicinity of Geyserville where the power was shut off by 3 p.m. Wednesday. The Kincade Fire started at 9:27 p.m. Wednesday northeast of Geyserville, according to Cal Fire. PG&E did not say whether the power would remain off in that area. PG&E said it is "working with authorities to gather additional information."

PG&E said it is closely following a potentially strong, widespread, dry offshore wind event coming Saturday that is significant in scope. The wind event could impact the Sierra foothills, North Bay, Peninsula, Central Coast, East Bay and Humboldt County.

A National Weather Service Bay Area posted that the fire conditions this weekend could be the worst of the year and possibly the worst since the Wine Country fires in 2017.

Contra Costa Fire tweeted late Thursday afternoon that they had been notified that the projected Red Flag warning and accompanying PG&E power shutoffs could affect up to 150,000 residents in the county over the weekend.

The Alameda County Sheriff's office also posted on Twitter about a likely PSPS starting early Saturday evening and going through Monday afternoon.

Earlier Thursday, an angry California Gov. Gavin Newsom lashed out at Pacific Gas & Electric officials, calling the utility's policy of shutting off power as a wildfire prevention plan -- "dog-eats-dog capitalism meeting climate change."

Thousands of PG&E customers in Sonoma, Napa and San Mateo counties were affected by the second power outage this month as the Bay Area was under a Red Flag Warning for prime wildfire conditions.

While the warning expired Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service was predicting even more extreme conditions would move into the Bay Area over the coming weekend.

Newsom's criticism of PG&E has intensified since the first outage took place on Oct. 9. More than 700,000 Northern California customers were out of power for 2-4 days during the first planned outage. This week about 184,000 customers from Central to Northern California are without electricity.

"I must confess it is infuriating to live in a state as innovative and extraordinarily entrepreneurial and capable as a state of California to be living in an environment where we are seeing this kind of disruption and these kinds of blackouts," he said.

"While I want to chalk it up -- as someone who believes deeply that the hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier and the wets are getting wetter -- that it's just climate change. It's more than just climate change," Newsom added. "When it relates to PG&E, it's about dog-eats-dog capitalism meeting climate change. It's about corporate greed meeting climate change."

"It about decades of mismanagement. It's about focusing on shareholders and dividends over you and members of the public," he continued. "It's a story about greed. And they need to be held accountable."

Currently, PG&E is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the wake of an avalanche of million-dollar-plus lawsuits stemming from deadly and destructive wildfires dating back to 2017. Those fires -- including the blaze that destroyed the town of Paradise last year -- were sparked by the utility's power lines and equipment.

"They are in bankruptcy already because of their choices," Newsom said. "But when they come out of bankruptcy that has to be a completely re-imagined company. We are doing everything in our power to make sure that indeed is the case."

In a televised briefing Wednesday night, PG&E CEO Bill Johnson defended the unpopular power outages that the utility says are necessary to reduce the risk of wildfires during periods of high wind, hot weather and low humidity.

"We understand the hardship caused by these shutoffs," Johnson said. "But we also understand the heartbreak and devastation caused by catastrophic wildfires."

He also addressed the growing criticism of the utility, saying the company was doing a better job this time around communicating with the public, "working in lockstep" with local governments and state agencies and made sure its website where customers can get information was working well, after repeatedly crashing during the earlier outage.

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