San Jose Preps for PG&E’s Fire-Safety Power Shutdowns

It’s hard to imagine what San Jose—the 10th largest U.S city—would look like if it went dark. But a plan by California’s largest energy provider could do just that.

PG&E is set to cut power in areas around the Bay Area, including in San Jose, during high-wind days this summer to prevent the spread of wildfires in Northern California. The plan, euphemistically termed by the company as “de-energization,” could leave millions of residents in the Bay Area in darkness for hours—or even days—at a time when many residents might need electricity the most.

In response, the San Jose City Council will review a set of goals today to ensure that PG&E hews to the city’s priorities as it rolls out the plan, which is similar to a program already in effect in Southern California.

“These goals align with the city’s legislative guiding principles to protect local control and support efforts that improve the quality of life, affordability, health, environmental protection, economic development, equity, and safety in San Jose,” a memo by San Jose Director of Community Energy Lori Mitchell states.

The council has asked that PG&E be more transparent in communicating with city officials and emergency services during a controlled blackout, and outreach efforts to the community before, during and after such events. The city would like PG&E to coordinate clear plans with hospitals, police, fire stations and water facilities.

“Wildfire risk coordination must ensure that the impacts to residents, businesses, and municipal services of multi-day power outages are thoroughly considered and evaluated prior to the authorization of outages, particularly transmission level outages to large urban areas,” per the Mitchell memo

As PG&E’s primary purpose is to mitigate wildfire risk, the city has also demanded that the utility also look into investing fire-preventative and public safety measures for the city. “Shareholder profits should be realigned to link directly to demonstrated safety performance, affordability, and electric decarbonization,” the memo reads.

The potential move by the company comes as public confidence in PG&E wanes. The company, which filed or bankruptcy in January, has been blamed for the 2017 series of wildfires in Northern California, and the Camp Fire in Butte County that resulted in 85 deaths—the deadliest wildfire in state history.

Despite the company’s trouble in the field and the boardroom, state regulators have granted PG&E almost exclusive discretion to determine what parts of San Jose to shut down during a high-wind day, according to a city memo. City officials say the company has offered little guidance  on how to manage such a large outage.

The city manager has requested “more information” to determine just how the energy giant would help prepare the city’s emergency services arm for such an event.

Click here to reach the city's landing page about the planned outages.

More from the San Jose City Council meeting for June 25, 2019:

  • The city will issue the first round of Measure T bonds, which will fund various kinds of transportation and public works projects through 2021. According to a city memo, projects include: bridges and street repair, LED streetlight conversion, public safety, sewer upgrades, environmental protection and emergency and disaster shelters. A full list of projects can be found here.
  • City Manager Dave Sykes is angling for $6.4 million in grants from the California Department of Parks and Recreation to revitalize Overfelt Gardens Park, Emma Prusch Farm Park and Roosevelt Roller Hockey Rink. The funds are made available through Prop. 68, which voters passed last year and which authorizes $4 billion in general obligation bonds for state and local parks, environmental protection, water infrastructure and flood protection. To be eligible for such funds, parks must be in a “park-poor or disadvantaged community.”
  • Updates will be heard on the mayor’s “granny unit” program.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

4 Comments

  1. We need to protect the city during high winds, but some people need electricity so we need backup plans for them. Can the City protect people with medical equipment that needs power? PG&E knows who many of these people are because they can register for a higher baseline to allow for the equipment. But probably not everyone is enrolled. Someone with a CPAP who works at a good job may not need discount electricity, but they still need to breathe while sleeping. Many residents need to recharge electric wheelchairs/scooters. Insulin and other drugs need cooling.

    Will people with powered medical equipment needs be evacuated to facilities with generators? Is there a program to provide home generators and set them up? Even a $50 “3-way car emergency power pack” could make a difference long enough to implement a longer-term plan.

    We need to make sure that people don’t die because their condition depends on access to power that may need to be cut off to prevent greater disasters.

  2. Also, we need to plan for evacuating people with mobility impairment from areas they access by elevator. The ADA requires elevators so disabled people aren’t segregated to the ground floor (and mixed use buildings don’t have ground floor apartments), and disabled people work in office towers.

  3. My advice to PG&E is to get the hell out of the electricity businesses.

    Then, those people who want a free 3-way car emergency power pack for their CPAP machines can get one from Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, along with their free college education and free Medicare for All.

    Also, the disabled people who want to live in the penthouse can ask the County Supervisors or San Jose CIty Council for a government paid sedan chair with around the clock chair toters to whisk them up and down the stairs at any hour of the day or night, just like their non-disabled neighbors.

  4. LOL,
    Your all going to die eating spoiled food from a warm refrigerator in the dark. I’d say go by a generator but where will you get the fuel to run it? Can’t store your gas, it goes bad after a year natural gas PG&E may cut that off as well. Solar, might keep you running as long as the sun is shining. Better start cutting all the wood around those PG&E lines and saving it for days with no power, don’t forget your cutting and burn permits.
    So glad I don’t live there anymore!

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