City-PG&E Agree to Blackout Plan

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

June 17, 2022

What should you do; where should you go for needed services this summer when the power goes off in an effort to try and prevent wildfires?

Now you can try the Community Center in Morro Bay.

The City and Pacific Gas & Electric have entered into an agreement to allow the utility company to set up a “Community Resource Center or CRC in the event of a “Public Safety Power Shut-off” or PSPS.

That’s when the weather conditions — namely hot, dry and windy — are ripe for the company’s infrastructure to malfunction and start a fire, something that happened in 2018, when the Camp Fire, stoked by fierce winds, destroyed the town of Paradise in Northern California killing some 84 people. PG&E’s high voltage equipment was the cause.

The company filed for bankruptcy in 2019 and pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter and as a result of the fire, they came up with the PSPS or “rolling blackouts,” as they are also known.

“When these PSPS events are identified,” reads a report from City Manager Scott Collins, “PG&E will turn off power distribution to specific areas to prevent electrical distribution equipment from igniting a fire.”

Along with that decision came the realization that electric power means life and death to some people. 

“To lessen the impacts of these events on community members,” Collins said, “PG&E created a program to set up Community Resource Centers in affected areas. These CRCs provide an area that community members have access to for ADA-accessible restrooms and hand washing stations, medical equipment, charging stations, device charging, Wi-Fi, access to drinking water and snacks.”

So when a PSPS hits here, the company will set up equipment to serve people’s needs. The company is supposed to give the City eight hours advanced warning if a PSPS is about to hit, and the City must respond within four hours if the Community Center is unavailable.

“PG&E,” Collins said, “requests use of the facility for 1-2 days before initiation of the PSPS to set up and 1 day after restoration of electrical service to demobilize, with potential length of use anticipated to be two to seven days.” 

That final tidbit should give readers pause, as they consider the prospects of not having power at their homes for perhaps a week. The Company will do everything needed to set up and run the CRC. 

“PG&E would supply on-site security guards,” Collins said, “all required supplies and equipment, and proof of self-insurance. Notification of a PSPS initiating event by PG&E will include:

• Estimated start time of a potential event;

• Forecasted weather duration;

• Estimated time range to full restoration;

• Number of medical baseline customers in the affected area; and,

• Maps that include boundaries of the area subject to de-energization and affected circuits will be posted at:”

The agreement is also in keeping with the City’s own emergency plans. 

“The City of Morro Bay Emergency Management Plan Annex K,” Collins said, “outlines the City’s response to electrical PSPS events for continuity of operations. 

“Within this plan,” he continued, it says, “If needed due to weather or longevity of power shut-off, ensure that Resource Centers are identified and can be supported.”

The agreement with PG&E apparently fills that requirement nicely and identifies a location for a CRC, “ensuring liability concerns are mitigated, and the process for implementation is outlined.”

And when the City is hit with a different type of disaster — storms, floods, earthquake or tsunami — it has an emergency plan including establishing a communications center at the Harbor Street Firehouse.

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