For 3 years Bay Area has faced threat of rolling blackouts, but what's being done to prevent them?

Stephanie Sierra Image
Tuesday, October 12, 2021
What's being done to prevent PG&E rolling blackouts?
For three years the Bay Area has faced a threat of rolling blackouts. Experts question if enough is being done to prevent them in the future.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- For three years the Bay Area has faced a consistent threat of rolling blackouts, leaving experts questioning if there's enough being done to prevent them in the future.

"It's job number one for all California utilities to get better at this," said Ralph Cavanagh, the co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) energy program. "No one wants to be without power for any length of time."

RELATED: PG&E planned power shutoffs impacting thousands across California

The NRDC is a non-profit international environmental advocacy group. Cavanagh has been with the organization since 1979 and has advised leadership at North American utility companies for decades.

He says over the past three years, utility companies like PG&E have prioritized two goals to reduce the risk of rolling blackouts -- how to limit areas affected by the shutoffs and how to restore power faster.

According to research conducted by Cavanagh, PG&E has made progress getting control of the power grid. He says the company is working to only black out areas deemed necessary to prevent fire risk and enhance its system inspections to be able to speed up the power restoration process.

VIDEO: Solano Co. residents hit with another PG&E power shutoff; thousands impacted by current blackout

Most of the customers impacted by Monday's PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff are in Solano County, according to the power company's website.

"From a long-term perspective, the combination of all of these things... should mean that over time the severity of these incidents diminishes," said Cavanagh.

In July, the utility company announced plans to underground 10,000 miles of power lines over the next decade to minimize wildfire risk. PG&E spokesperson Deanna Contreras told ABC7 the company is working towards meeting that goal.

"PG&E actually just finished up an undergrounding project here in Santa area where these customers kept getting impacted by PSPS," Contreras said. "So 11,000 customers are now not going to be impacted by these PSPS events because we put those lines underground."

RELATED: Will California's improvements to power grid prevent rolling outages? Experts are hopeful

ABC7 asked PG&E in an email how many miles of power lines have been moved underground to date, but have yet to hear back. The company did provide us the following statement on which areas will be prioritized:

"We are prioritizing undergrounding in areas where we can have the greatest impact on reducing wildfire risk and PSPS outages for our customers. We are focusing on protecting critical facilities, like hospitals and fire stations, and looking at a variety of factors including topography, constructability, vegetation, existing infrastructure and other concerns. If there is currently system hardening work planned in a neighborhood, that same neighborhood may still be a candidate for future undergrounding if they meet the criteria mentioned."

But, Cavanagh worries undergrounding power lines won't be the most cost-effective solution.

"Undergrounding is two to five times the cost of having lines above ground," he said. "I want to see if there are other solutions in parts of the system that can deliver an equivalent benefit at a lower cost."