In the biggest planned power outage in state history, PG&E started turning off the power that residents use for lights, television sets, computers, stoves and air conditioners in rolling blackouts planned for 30 counties with almost 800,000 paying accounts, impacting more than a million people.
At least one state elected official slammed the rolling blackouts as “unacceptable.”
The outages were aimed at keeping power off live wires on a warm and windy day, ideal for the spread of wildfires.
Schools around the region were closed in anticipation of the lack of power, and some morning commuters were slowed by nonfunctioning traffic signals, forcing local police to direct drivers.
PG&E set up resource centers around Northern California so customers could charge up devices, use a bathroom or grab a bottle of water.
And once power is curtailed, it could take several days for electricity to be restored as inspectors make sure lines are safe to be reactivated.
California state Sen. Scott Wiener called the blackouts “unacceptable” and estimated that 2.5 million people could ultimately be impacted.
“It’s hard to overstate the impact of this massive rolling blackout, affecting 2.5 million people,” Wiener said in a statement. “People rely on electricity for their medicine, their food and their livelihoods. This is a completely unacceptable state of affairs. We can’t let PG&E normalize these mass blackouts.”
Area schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, were shut down Wednesday. The University of California, Berkeley, the state’s flagship university with more than 42,000 undergraduate and graduate students, also called off classes.
The power shutdown comes after last year’s Camp Fire that killed 85 people and destroyed thousands of structures. The utility has acknowledged that its equipment “probably” started what was the most deadly wildfire in California history.
PG&E has previously declared so-called public safety power shutoffs when dry, windy conditions threaten to spark fires around power lines — this will be the fourth in the past month.
The utility shut down power to about 50,000 customers in Northern California late last month and to about 24,000 customers the week before that.
But the scale of this week’s measures dwarfs what’s happened in the past.
Within Wednesday’s mass shutdowns, some important services still had electricity.
For example, lights remained on inside the Caldecott Tunnel, cutting through the Berkeley Hills into suburban Contra Costa County, and the Tom Lantos Tunnel, a stretch of State Route 1 through Devil’s Slide in Pacifica, the California Department of Transportation said.
Associated Press contributed.