Utility, county confirm: Humboldt County not expected to lose power in upcoming PG&E event

Humboldt County is currently not expected to be included among the counties affected by an upcoming Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power shutoff, both the utility and county confirmed on Monday. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
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Humboldt County is currently not expected to be included among the counties affected by an upcoming Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power shutoff, both the utility and county confirmed on Monday.

The latest shutoff is expected to begin on Wednesday morning and affect power across 22 counties statewide. But as of Monday afternoon, Humboldt County is not on the list, though changing weather always has the potential to flip the script, officials said.

“As of right now, no it is not,” PG&E spokesperson Deanna Contreras said about Humboldt County’s chances of being affected. “But the weather changes, and we’ll continue to monitor the weather.”

The county’s Office of Emergency Services, which last month found itself at odds with PG&E’s official power shutoff information, was briefed on a phone call Monday morning by high-level utility officials that Humboldt County is not currently expected to lose power.

Emergency services manager Ryan Derby said staff members at the office very pointedly asked PG&E officials if Humboldt County would be affected. They were told that “the current answer is ‘no,’” he said.

“Based on everything we’re aware of, we’re not experiencing any service disruption at present time… but we’re monitoring the situation,” Derby said.

He went on to advocate for precautions among Humboldt County residents, saying “personal preparedness is always something we’re pushing for.”

“We recommend residents have gas in their cars, stable food and water, battery-powered lanterns,” he said. “These are things people should prepare for any day, not just with a looming (power shutoff).”

Derby said the Office of Emergency Services expects to be on another phone call with PG&E before “close-of-business” on Monday.

A string of PG&E power shutdowns in October saw blackouts affect large swaths of the state. The number of residents affected is estimated to have ranged into the millions.

Humboldt County lost power on two occasions. One shutdown lasted just over 24 hours starting Oct. 9. A second blackout began Oct. 26 and extended several hours longer.

The county was expected to be among the areas without power in a shutdown starting Oct. 29, but PG&E cleared the county mere hours before the projected start time.

The utility has emphasized that the shutoffs are for public safety, citing strong wind conditions that it warns could spark major wildfire if power is not deactivated.

Strong gusts did occur in southeastern parts of the county during the Oct. 9 power shutdown, but the county at large did not find itself at risk of wildfire.

Instead, the county lost power because its energy infrastructure remains connected to PG&E’s main transmission lines, which means that any neighboring shutdown poses the threat of cutting the county’s energy as well.

At its upcoming meeting on Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors will consider sending a letter to the state Public Utilities Commission about the county’s options in establishing a “customer-owned utility structure” to replace PG&E.

In light of the utility’s ongoing bankruptcy proceedings, the board asks if democratizing the county’s energy infrastructure would allow for “increased capitol production” and allow local customers “to be in the decision-making process” for future power shutdowns.

“This new business concept will also focus on the realities of climate change and direct attention to the poorly maintained infrastructure; therefore, restoring public confidence and serving the interest of its customers,” the letter states.

The board previously approved sending a letter to PG&E insisting an official from the utility address the county at a public meeting about local energy options.

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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