Updated Oct. 23, 5:23 p.m.
Pacific Gas & Electric Company has started to shut off power to some customers in planned outages that will affect nearly 180,000 customers throughout portions of Northern California.
The utility says the shutoffs affecting about 450,000 people are expected to begin around 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Sierra Foothills, followed soon after by blackouts north of the San Francisco Bay Area. Then, at around 1 a.m. Thursday, customers in affected areas of San Mateo and Kern counties are also expected to lose power.
In all, the power will be cut to portions of 17 counties. The utility lowered a previous estimate that 190,000 customers would be without power.
The outages will last about 48 hours, the utility said ,but its seven-day forecast shows an elevated likelihood of a shut-off across a much larger portion of Northern California for the weekend, when heavy winds are expected to return.
It comes two weeks after the utility cut power to around 2 million people across 34 counties in one of its largest preventative outages.
That blackout has led to intense criticism for the utility from customers, regulators and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who sent a sharply worded letter Tuesday to PG&E CEO Bill Johnson, blaming the unprecedented mass outage earlier this month on the company's failure to maintain and upgrade its equipment.
"I believe the unacceptable scope and duration of the previous outage — deliberately forcing 735,000 customers to endure power outages — was the direct result of decades of PG&E prioritizing profit over public safety," Newsom wrote, referring to the number of businesses and households affected, not the total number of people.
Speaking in front of the state Public Utilities Commission last week, Johnson said power shutoffs could continue for another decade as the utility works to upgrade its equipment.
On Tuesday Johnson urged residents upset at the utility for the blackouts not to vent their anger at PG&E crews.
"I ask you to remember this — these people are trying to turn your lights on, they're trying to help you, they're trying to keep you safe," Johnson said "They are your neighbors, they live in your communities. So please do not direct your anger to the people doing their best to manage this event safely."
On Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Josh Harder of Modesto slammed PG&E on the on the floor of the House of Representatives. He says these planned outages to prevent the utility's equipment from starting wildfires were caused by greed, corruption, and mismanagement at PG&E.
"Regular people can't choose to not pay their bills and PG&E shouldn't be able to abuse that fact by refusing to invest in their grid," Harder said. "These blackouts are happening because rich executives decided to give themselves millions of dollars in bonuses instead of investing in their crumbling infrastrucuture."
Harder said he's exploring options for federal intervention concerning the power shutoffs, including legislation.
PG&E began a policy of cutting power to prevent fires in October of last year, one month before the Camp Fire killed 84 people in Butte County. That fire has since been blamed on PG&E equipment, which the utility decided not to shut off in the hours preceding it.
The National Weather Service is forecasting strong winds and dry conditions starting Wednesday into Thursday, with extremely dry conditions through Friday. Another round of dry windy weather is possible Sunday through early next week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.