Sep 8, 2020 - Energy & Environment

California wildfires: PG&E's intentional outages add to misery

A PG&E crew seen through a hazy fog
PG&E crews in Santa Cruz, Calif., as the CZU August Lightning Complex fire burns on Aug., 22. Photo: Karl Mondon/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

California power giant Pacific Gas & Electric is imposing intentional outages to prevent extreme weather from igniting new wildfires in the state already facing widespread blazes.

Driving the news: The company announced shut-offs Monday night expected to affect 172,000 customers in parts of 22 counties and tribal communities.

  • The utility cited forecasts through Wednesday morning of "widespread, severely dry conditions and strong, gusty winds that create critical fire weather with high ignition risk."
  • However, the company said distributed generation and other tactics will allow about 69,000 customers and several medical facilities to maintain power.
  • More than 500,000 people overall could be impacted, per WSJ.

The big picture: The new outages are just the latest woes in a state facing a brutal summer of extreme heat and bad fires.

  • The state's grid manager imposed rolling blackouts last month amid high demand, but was able to avoid repeating that step in recent days as it urged people to ease consumption.

Why it matters: Beyond the immediate danger and misery, the state is feeling the effects of climate change, which worsens extreme heat and also is one of the forces fueling western wildfires.

What they're saying: The Washington Post writes, "Michael Wehner, who researches extreme weather events at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, estimates 'climate change has caused extreme heat waves to be 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in California.'"

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