Californians upset over planned power outages, but power company says it's for customer safety

Posted at 2:23 PM, Nov 13, 2019

PARADISE, Calif. – Parts of California are going dark and some people are taking it personally.

“It’s like a slap in the face,” said Paradise, California, resident Jonathan Valdez. “It’s like we have to keep suffering over and over again.”

Valdez stocked up on gas for his generators after Pacific Gas and Electric warned it could shut off power to almost 200,000 people across the state in an attempt to lower the risks of wildfires.

“Gas went up so I’m kind of sweating it a little bit,” Valdez said. “It’s another extra dollar for each can and we have to do this every day.”

Several businesses say the power shutdowns have hurt their sales.

“People can’t work, people can’t pay their bills,” said a worker at the local gas station. “And people up here in California, we live paycheck to paycheck.”

The employee says the gas station lost products without electricity. She added many feel in the Northern California community that they’re being targeted by the power company.

“A lot of people think they’re doing it to get back at the people of Paradise,” she said.

Getting back because several people are now suing PG&E after investigations found their equipment started the Camp Fire – the most expensive and deadly wildfire in California history.

Paul Moreno of PG&E says these planned power outages aren’t happening out of revenge – they are happening to keep cities and citizens safe.

“No. No. There’s nothing like that. This is being done for public safety,” Moreno said. “Last time we did a public safety power shutoff, we found 100 cases of damage caused by high winds to our powerlines any number of those could have started a fire. With the high winds it could have been catastrophic.”

These potentially catastrophic conditions have first responders on high alert.

“It’s really flammable and fire is really dynamic,” said Rick Carhart of Cal Fire Butte County.

Carhart says Cal Fire has increased staffing after issuing a Red Flag Warning – adding people need to take safety into their own hands.

"You need to have 10 feet of an area around the generator down to bare dirt," he said.

Having a plan in place, just like the local schools.

After closing classes for three days during another power shutoff, Paradise Junior and High Schools aren’t taking any chances this time.

Staff will use lanterns to light classes and plan on running generators to access the internet.

“That may sound strange, but we ran a school out of a hardware store last year,” said Larry Johnson, Principal at Paradise Junior & Senior High School. “So, a couple of lanterns, you know, we got this.”

Town officials, however, aren’t as optimistic.

“There’s not a lot we can do about it,” said Paradise Mayor Jody Jones. “We don’t even have generators that the town has.”

Jones isn’t pleased with PG&E. And after seeing much of her city go up in flames, she’s now calling them out – saying PG&E should have spent more money on maintenance.

“I think there’s a lot of evidence that they haven’t been doing the maintenance that they need to do doing,” she said. “I wish that they would have invested in their system.”

When the power did go out in Paradise, some had their own systems in place.

Nicki Jones of Nic’s Food, Beer and Wine bought a generator to keep her business up and running. Saying it’s an investment for both her and her customers.

“We’re able to serve the community,” she said. “We open up at 7 a.m. We serve coffee and we have a gathering place for the community.”

Those looking to travel out of this community, however, may have a hard time.

“Everything else is closed,” a local man said. “So, I’m going to have to get gas in Chico.”

Back at the local gas station, people found the doors chained up and pumps shutdown.

“It’s a big inconvenience going down to Chico,” the man said. “Everything in Magalia is closed and everything in Paradise is closed.”

But despite the hardships, people are staying positive during these planned power shutoffs and seeing light in this time of darkness.

“We’re Paradise strong,” Jody Jones said. “We’re pioneers. We can do it.”