PG&E will implement a Public Safety Power Shutoff, also called a PSPS, in response to severe weather as a public safety measure. After the catastrophic fires of 2017 and 2018, they now turn off power in a proactive attempt to reduce risk of wildfires and keep communities safe. Multiple factors influence the decision to shut off power in a region, including high winds and low humidity.
Rural communities are often the last ones to have power restored after a planned outage, so it is important for farmers in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) to understand this process, and learn how to prepare backup options and communication plans. Don’t get caught without a way to communicate! Make sure you have two-way radios that are charged, battery operated lights, and know the nearby locations where cell phones will still receive signal or where landlines can be accessed (with emergency numbers posted, including the PG&E 24-hour Power Outage Information Center phone number for updates!), and/or hand crank lights and radios.
There is a separate number to call if you are an “Agricultural Customer”, typically meaning you have an electrical drop with higher capacity (480 V, three-phase, 4-wire) on your property, so call that Service Center, Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.- 6 p.m. at 1-877-311-3276.
PSPSs don’t always make perfect sense up front. It is possible that although your location may not be in a high fire-threat area or an area experiencing high winds, your power may be shut off if your drop point/connection relies on a line that runs through an area with severe weather. On occasion, you may observe that your neighbor has power, but you don’t, which usually indicates that they are being served by a different line than the one that serves you. Also, if you are near an area experiencing an active wildfire, you may experience unplanned outages in order to protect firefighting personnel on the ground, so being prepared for multiple scenarios will benefit you and your farm/property in the long-term.
It is important that PG&E customers make a plan to keep themselves safe during power outages. This is especially true for farmers as they have unique considerations outside the home, such as how to harvest, clean, and care for crops and livestock when there is no electricity for irrigation, processing equipment, cold storage, etc. For tips on how to prepare, visit PG&E’s Safety Action Center.
PSPS Timeline: What to Expect
When PG&E needs to temporarily turn off power for safety, you can expect the following sequence of events:
- Severe Weather: Can be forecasted up to a week in advance.
- PSPS Outage Watch: Notifications can arrive 2 days prior to a shutoff, and often PG&E will let you know the potential estimated power shutoff time and restoration time, but these are not guaranteed. The restoration times are highly dependent on changing weather and also affected by your location along a line that has been shut off. Some farmers are installing stand alone solar powered pumps and well systems in preparation for extended outages during severe wildfires.
- PSPS Outage Warning: Notifications are typically provided 1 day in advance and PG&E will let you know the potential estimated power shutoff time and restoration time. Make sure to sign up for both residential and small/medium business level alerts if your farm and residence are in different locations! Even if you are not a PG&E account holder, you can still sign up for alerts using this link.
- Power Shut Off: Power is shut off to affected areas to prevent wildfire. You can also view and report outages statewide using this link.
- Inspections and Repair: PG&E crews will inspect electric lines before attempting to restore power to affected communities. If you are signed up for alerts in your region, you will be notified daily about the estimated time of power restoration through any of the following outreach methods you choose: social media, local news, radio and the main PG&E website.
- PSPS Power Restored: Unless major damage to lines from wildfire, storms, trees, snow, etc. has been sustained, power to your region will be restored within 24 hours after severe weather has passed. You can learn more about what to expect by watching this video. Rural areas are often last to be restored, so having a backup plan and adequate provisions for your family, pets, and livestock, is critical. This includes backup generators and enough fuel to run them for up to 7 days! If you are using generators to power your wells, booster pumps, etc., you will need to install a transfer switch to ensure you are not accidentally feeding power back into the grid when the lines are down. It is also recommended that you understand which generator(s) you will need for different tasks, because sensitive electronic charging needs are different from those for your irrigation systems.
- The PSPS outage website provides additional information such as how to locate nearby community resources to assist you during prolonged outages that can offer support such as free bagged ice, Wi-Fi access, and device charging.
- PG&E also has partnerships with independent living centers to assist in the event that you or someone you know is living with a disability, or requires accessibility, financial or language support, and can provide translations, food, transportation, and backup power resources.
- This Preparedness map can help you understand your grid location specifics, and any planned safety outages due to line work such as improvements in System Hardening, Enhanced Vegetation Management, and Sectionalizing Device installations that can also cause temporary outages.
- It is also worth learning about Temporary Microgrids as an option for backup power, as they can safely provide electricity to areas that can be kept on during a larger PSPS outage.
- PG&E now hosts a Community Wildfire Safety Program. Check out this link for upcoming webinars and past recordings, usually organized by region in order to provide information specific to geographic constraints or characteristics such as high fire or wind hazard zones, etc.
For more information about general on-farm preparedness and recovery, check out CAFF’s Wildfire Resilience Program website, our Wildfire Resources Library, and also the California Family Farmer Emergency Fund page for direct recovery support.
If you’re looking for an even deeper dive, consider checking out Farmer Campus for amazing content from their hybrid online course and network dedicated to helping farmers and ranchers face a future with fire.