More Public Power Safety Shutoffs are Coming in 2020

Published On: September 8, 2020

As reported over the last several days on GovReport, a statewide heatwave, fires in Northern and Southern California, and high winds are forcing California’s in state utilities to declare or consider public power safety shutoffs (PSPS), an ability that was granted to the utilities via legislation that was signed by Governor Newsom and regulations that were later approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

As of Monday (9/8), Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), is currently in the midst of a PSPS event for 17 Northern California counties — an event that could impact as many as 200,000 customers.  Late this afternoon, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) warned of a possible PSPS event in the rural parts of its service territory, as a result of high winds and very dry conditions.

The events are cumbersome for the customers, as the power outages could last from a few minutes to a few days or longer.  The protocols enacted for the shutoffs are just as process driven as the re-energizing process is after the shutoffs.  The entirety of the event is part of a highly regulated process.

Notwithstanding, there are rumblings from the Capitol that the process and duration of some of these events is “unacceptable” and “too disruptive.”

The PSPS was afforded as a tool to the utilities.  The fire season is just getting going, and already has broken records in acreage burned and likely to break records on emissions created.  More PSPS events are likely to happen between today and the end of the year.  The worst fire in State history did not happen in the summer or even in September.  It happened in late October.

Last week the National Guard said that California is on track to exceed its worst fire season on record and there’s little relief in sight.  About 1,300 National Guard members from five states including California are currently assisting CalFire fight the fires, which have already consumed more than 1.6 million acres, or an area roughly the size of Delaware, according to Army General Daniel Hokanson.  By comparison, nearly 2 million acres burned in 2018, California’s deadliest fire year on record, when the Camp Fire consumed much of the city of Paradise in Butte County.

The largest fires currently burning as of this report: 

  • SCU Lightning Complex Fire, over 396,000 acres burned, 95% contained as of 9/7 (Counties Impacted: Stanislaus, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin) Presently the 2nd largest fire in state history
  • LNU Lightning Complex Fire, over 375,000 acres burned, 90% contained as of 9/7 (Counties Impacted: Sonoma, Lake, Napa, Yolo & Solano) Presently the 3rd largest fire in State history
  • Creek Fire, 143,900 acres burned, 0% contained as of 9/8 (Counties Impacted: Fresno)

Since January 1, 2020,  7,335 fires have consumed nearly 1.7 million acres (2,656.25 mi²).  As of today’s date, there are 29 major fires burning in California (21 in Northern California [North of Bakersfield] and 8 in Southern California).

The PSPS disruptions are not just annoying the Legislature and the regulators, they are hurting business, and customers.  With no power, there’s no technology — and no distance learning.



About the Author: Jesus Arredondo

Jesus Arredondo is an Energy Industry Analyst and former State of California official. He can be reached at jesus at