SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Pacific Gas & Electric officials announced Tuesday afternoon that they were moving ahead with plans to cut off power beginning early Wednesday morning to about 270,000 Bay Area customers as a safety precaution.
In a Tuesday after news release, the utility said it "expects to begin turning off power in some areas early Wednesday, just after midnight. 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."
Michael Lewis, senior vice president for PG&E's electric operations, apologized in advance for the chaos the massive outage will likely cause.
"We understand the effects this event will have on our customers and appreciate the public's patience as we do what is necessary to keep our communities safe and reduce the risk of wildfire," he said.
The shutoffs, called "Public Safety Power Shutoffs," may affect 256,996 PG&E customers in the Bay Area. If a shutoff is implemented, PG&E plans to begin turning off power early Wednesday morning, but the utility has not given an exact time--the shutoffs will happen in phases at different times, starting earliest in the northernmost regions.
As the clock ticks toward a power shut down, things are ramping up PG&E's emergency operations center. Meteorologists are closely monitoring wind speeds and directions, while fire officials confer over high-risk areas.
"This is not something that we take lightly. We understand the importance of electricity to our customers, said PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian. However the safety of our customers and the communities they serve is our most important responsibility."
The outages will have far-reaching consequences for homes and businesses. When asked if there's a way for customers to financially recoup their losses through PG&E, spokesperson Keith Stevens said, "Right now, there's not a method for that."
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PG&E said Tuesday morning users were seeing delays in accessing its web page on power shutoffs because of the high volume of traffic on the site.
The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory for the North Bay Mountains, East Bay Hills and the Diablo Range beginning at 6 a.m. Wednesday. Forecasters said winds will be in the range of 20 to 30 mph with gusts 45 to 55 mph.
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Meanwhile, a red flag fire warning will begin at 5 a.m. Wednesday and run through Thursday.
"There will be strong and gusty northerly winds across much of the North Bay and East Bay as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains," the weather service said. "A very dry airmass will (also) sweep across the region by late Wednesday. Daytime minimum humidity values are expected to drop into the teens on Wednesday, and possibly to the single digits by Thursday."
If the weather condition deteriorate enough, Lewis said PG&E wants customers to be prepared for an outage that may last several days.
PG&E officials said 32,613 customers in Alameda County could lose power including residences and businesses in Oakland, Castro Valley, Fremont, Union City, Berkeley, Hayward, San Leandro, Sunol, Pleasanton and Livermore.
In Contra Costa County, 40,219 customers may be affected. That includes customers in San Ramon, Orinda, Lafayette, Moraga, Pinole, Richmond, Kensington, Walnut Creek, Pleasant Hill, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Berkeley, Canyon, San Pablo, Pittsburg, Rodeo, Concord, Albany, Antioch and Martinez.
In Marin County, Under 10,000 residential and business customers could be without power including Sausalito, Stinson Beach, Olema, Muir Beach,
Fairfax, Bolinas, Mill Valley.
In Sonoma County, 66,289 customers are at risk of losing power including people and businesses in Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Petaluma, Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Glen Ellen, Penngrove, Geyserville, Kenwood, Rohnert Park, Windsor, Annapolis, Stewarts Point, Cotati, Cazadero, Guerneville, Larkfield, El Verano, Boyes Hot Springs, Fulton and Bodega Bay.
In Napa County, 32,124 customers may lose electricity, including those in Napa, St. Helena, Calistoga, Angwin, Pope Valley, Rutherford, Oakville, Deer Park, Lake Berryessa, Yountville and American Canyon.
The San Mateo County communities and cities that could be affected include Half Moon Bay, El Granada, Woodside, Moss Beach, Montara, Portola Valley, Pescadero, La Honda, Redwood City, San Gregorio, Loma Mar, San Mateo, Menlo Park, Emerald Hills, Pacifica and Princeton. In all, 14,766 San Mateo County customers may lose electricity.
On Tuesday evening, San Mateo County officials issued an update that the outage will go into effect at 12 p.m. Wednesday.
The Public Safety Power Shutdown will also close the Tom Lantos Tunnel on Highway 1 -- possibly as early as Tuesday night -- due to the tunnel safety systems being powered by electricity. Traffic will be turned back at Linda Mar Boulevard in Pacifica and at 2nd Street in Montara. Drivers should plan alternative routes to use when the tunnel is closed.
Caltrans also said it was preparing for a full closure of the Caldecott Tunnel in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties on State Route 24, but they worked with PG&E to install generators at both tunnels so they stay open during the outage.
In Santa Clara County, 38,123 residential and business customers could be without power, including those in San Jose, Morgan Hill, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Redwood Estates, Milpitas, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Coyote, Gilroy, Mount Hamilton and Palo Alto.
The City of San Jose announced that it expects no power shutoffs until at noon on Wednesday.
Residents and businesses in the Solano County communities of Fairfield, Vacaville, Suisun City, Vallejo and Dixon may be affected. In all, 32,862 customers might lose power in those cities.
Approximately 350,000 more customers in other regions of Northern and Central California may be affected by the Public Safety Power Shutoff for a total of about 600,000 in this possible shutdown operation, according to PG&E.
The utility's customers may be affected even though they are living in an area that isn't affected by dangerous fire conditions because parts of the system that serve one area may originate in an area that is affected by extreme weather, PG&E officials said.
"This is the measure of last resort and given the extreme nature of what is being forecasted, we think this is an appropriate approach from a risk reduction perspective," said Sumeet Singh, Vice President of Asset and Management and Community Wildfire Safety Program.
"We've had a multi-pronged approach that we have implemented over the last several years to remove additional vegetation," said Singh.
BART service should not be affected during any power shutoff, according to the transit agency. Officials have said they have the "flexibility to pull power from other sections of our traction power supply system" to replace any lost power due to the shutoff.
Generators will also help power equipment such as tunnel fans or other critical systems, according to BART.
Escalators at BART stations using portable generators may be out of service, but elevators should be operational, the transit agency said.
To see maps of where power outages may occur, visit the PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff Outage Maps
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