By Molly Hulligan | Staff Writer
Northern California has finally begun to regain power after being without electricity for the past eight days. Pacific Gas & Electricity (PG&E) shut off its services to prevent wildfires from spreading.
Early last Wednesday, weather and air conditions were reported to be ideal for wildfires to start in the region. According to ABC News, high-speed winds had high potential to trigger sparks off power lines and start fires.
Because of PG&E’s track record with its equipment being involved in destructive fires, the company decided to take matters into its own hands. Determined to prevent another wildfire, PG&E shut off electricity throughout Northern California — a practice no utility company has employed in the United States until now.
PG&E is California’s largest utility company and one of the biggest in the country. PG&E’s equipment has been responsible for a number of wildfires in California in recent years.
Just over a decade ago, one of the company’s gas lines exploded south of San Francisco, causing a wildfire that destroyed a neighborhood and killed eight people.
PG&E was also blamed for starting the most destructive wildfire in state history — the Camp Fire. According to the New York Times, the infamous Camp Fire killed more than 80 people and destroyed the town of Paradise, California, last November. First year finance major from California Ditto Rajpal recalled the event, saying, “They were claiming they were fixing things when they actually weren’t — that resulted in an entire town being destroyed. So, (PG&E) is a company (my friends and family in California) talk about often.”
More than 700,000 homes and businesses lost electricity, reaching from the uppermost northern part of the state to the outskirts of Silicon Valley. PG&E faced complications from the very beginning moments of its efforts, according to the New York Times.
The company website faltered at the onset of the shutdown, meaning individuals and businesses were unable to see whether their power would be shut off or left untouched.
The technological failures on PG&E’s side caused confusion and chaos, as many Californians were unprepared to be left in the dark. Businesses, roads, nursing homes and other critical services struggled to find backup power to sustain them.
As of Sunday, most of northern California’s power has been restored. Nevertheless, Californians have raised the question of whether this method of preventing wildfires will be a common occurrence, at least until a more efficient way is implemented.
However, PG&E’s chief executives and managers, along with California Governor Gavin Newsom, are all in agreement that things cannot continue in this direction.
“We did not deliver on this commitment this time. We were not prepared to manage the operational event.” Generally, officials involved in the power outage acknowledged that there were major missteps and agree that the situation was handled poorly.
According to the New York Times, PG&E’s chief executive, Ben Johnson, recalled his promise made over this summer to do better with regards to equipment safety.