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Intentional Blackouts In Northern California Continue : NPR


The intentional blackout in northern California is now in its third day. The longer it lasts, the harder it is for residents, businesses, and governments to cope.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To California now, the utility PG&E has restored power to some parts of northern California, but hundreds of thousands of people are still in the dark. The utility intentionally shut off power in the hopes of preventing a wildfire. From member station KQED, Laura Klivans reports.

LAURA KLIVANS, BYLINE: In the northern California town of Paradise, Stacy Pineda lost her home nearly one year ago on November 8. She lost it in the state's deadliest wildfire. Now she lives in an RV, and this week, she lost her power.

STACY PINEDA: I'm not happy. I don't understand why it is that they failed to shut off the power on November 8 and why now are pulling so many days in a row.

KLIVANS: PG&E shut off electricity to much of northern California on Wednesday, including Paradise, a town that today consists of construction vehicles and empty lot after empty lot.

PINEDA: And I know they're trying to keep themselves out of trouble, but there's got to be some middle ground. We can't lose everything that's in our refrigerators every time there's a danger.

KLIVANS: The utility cut power in the hopes of avoiding wildfires sparked by their own electrical equipment. Forecasters predicted high winds and dry conditions this week - ideal weather for a wildfire. The shutoff that started Wednesday reached even more people on Thursday, when areas surrounding San Francisco also had power outages. Overall, the shutoffs affected millions of people across the state and continue today. In Berkeley, Terry De Grace-Morris left her powerless home to seek out electricity at a friend's place. She brought her smartphone and computer, and...

TERRY DE GRACE-MORRIS: The one thing I forgot in preparation for this big to-do was to grind up extra coffee, so I brought my coffee grinder and coffee over. I just finished doing that.

KLIVANS: De Grace-Morris has a disability, so electricity can really matter. When her friend realized she still had power, she opened her doors to others in the disability community, even strangers, because for these women, being able to charge a wheelchair is important. Amidst inconveniences for residents and businesses, government officials are angry. California Governor Gavin Newsom says that this kind of power cutoff wouldn't need to happen if PG&E better maintained its grid.

GAVIN NEWSOM: You've got people that can't even access water or medical supplies. What's happened is unacceptable, and it's happened because of neglect.

KLIVANS: Newsom says this isn't a story about weather conditions and climate change...

NEWSOM: As much as a story about greed and mismanagement over the course of decades. They chose not to modernize their grid.

KLIVANS: But PG&E president Bill Johnson is pushing back against the governor.

WILLIAM JOHNSON: So we faced a choice here between hardship on everyone or safety, and we chose safety.

KLIVANS: The company has been found responsible for several catastrophic wildfires in recent years and filed for bankruptcy protection in January. Johnson acknowledged that this week's shutoffs won't be the last.

JOHNSON: We will very likely have to make this kind of decision again in the future, and if and when we do, there are many things we need to do better next time than we did this time.

KLIVANS: PG&E says it needs to inspect lines before it restores power, which, for some Northern California residents, could take multiple days.

For NPR News, I'm Laura Klivans in San Francisco.

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