Updated Nov. 1, 6:17 a.m.
Additional reporting by Jonathan J. Cooper and Juliet Williams, Associated Press
Pacific Gas and Electric says 1,400 customers remain without service after its most recent power shut-offs, the latest in a series that have sparked a backlash from residents and state officials.
PG&E said in a press conference Wednesday evening that there are 156 confirmed instances of damage and that number is expected to rise.
PG&E said in a statement Wednesday morning that it had cut power to 517,000 customers in 22 counties Tuesday, or around 1.5 million people. PG&E estimates each customer account represents around three people.
More than 400,000 customers never had their power restored from this weekend's outages before the newest round started Tuesday.
You can view outage details on PG&E’s outage map.
PG&E faced crushing condemnation for its poor execution in the first widespread blackout Oct. 9 — its website failed, and customers couldn't get through by phone. People were confused about when and where the power would go out.
Local governments complained about the lack of communication before the Oct. 9 outage and filed reports with regulators. In a response filed Wednesday with the Public Utilities Commission, PG&E acknowledged "various, and in some cases, extreme, shortcomings, including failure of the website, and coordination with state local and tribal governments" during the shut-off.
But it said it has since updated its website "to provide helpful and useful information to the public."
Many of its customers disagreed, saying it was difficult to get to a map of outages and find specifics on when the electricity would go off or come back on.
PG&E Corp. CEO Bill Johnson said the company will give a one-time credit to customers hit by the first blackout as a "recognition of things that we didn't do well."
"These things present hardship ... but there's something worse than that, and we've seen worse," Johnson said Wednesday. "We've seen catastrophic wildfire with death and destruction. At this point we have to do everything we can to prevent it.
"This situation will improve over time, and I don't think anyone in California should leave because of it, but I think we've all got a role to play in minimizing this risk," he said.
Winds calming Wednesday
But while strong winds from the weekend have calmed, and PG&E said it doesn't expect strong winds the rest of this week in Northern California, critical fire danger persists across California. A red flag warning is in effect until 4 p.m. Wednesday for much of the region.
Mike Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento, says Northern California will get a break from the gusty northerly winds that bring about high fire danger.
"Although we do not anticipate any rain in the forecast in the next seven, perhaps 10 days, we are not expecting any additional offshore wind events at this time which is good news and I will definitely take it," Smith said.
Residents struggle with outages
Some affected by the blackouts have ended up at centers set up by PG&E where people could go to power their electronics and get free water, snacks, flashlights and solar lanterns.
In Placer County, Angel Smith relied on baby wipes and blankets to keep her 13-month-old son Liam warm and clean. The family has been without power since Saturday night and cannot draw well water without electricity.
She ran a cord from her neighbors' generator to keep her phone and tablet charged so the two could watch movies. Temperatures were expected to drop below freezing overnight in parts of Northern California.
"The hardest part about this for me has been making sure I keep my son warm as it gets cold here," Smith said.
Paradise — the site of last year’s devastating Camp Fire — is also one of the communities that’s been hardest hit by PG&E’s power shut-offs this fall.
Nicki Jones at Nic’s Deli in downtown Paradise says it’s the sixth blackout day in six weeks. She’s been running the store on a backup generator. She isn’t how much it’s costing her, but she’s determined to stay open.
“Our normal business hours are 11 a.m. to 9p.m.," she said. "But when the power is out we open at 7 a.m. and serve coffee and breakfast items, mostly as a service to the community.”
The private utility company says it’s a fire prevention measure. But residents have questioned whether it’s worth the financial losses and all-around inconvenience of repeated shutoffs.
She says the outages are a necessary inconvenience.
“I don’t think anybody likes ’em, but I’d rather have a power outage than more of our town burn down,” Jones said.
Political pressure on PG&E increasing
PG&E is under severe financial pressure after its equipment was blamed for a series of destructive wildfires during the past three years. Its stock dropped 24 percent Monday to close at $3.80 and was down more than 50 percent since Thursday.
The recent blackouts have prompted backlash from customers and state and local elected officials.
U.S. Rep. Josh Harder, a Democrat from Modesto, said he plans to introduce legislation that would raise PG&E's taxes if it pays bonuses to executives while engaging in blackouts.
State Sen. Mark McGuire, who represents a district stretching from Marin to Del Norte, told KQED this weekend there's been a lack of investment and mismanagement by PG&E on their electrical system and a lack of oversight by the state's Public Utilities Commission.
"I think PG&E's power shut-offs have been a debacle. They lack the basic fundamentals to successfully execute a large and complex outage."
Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged that the state may not have the power to force PG&E to pay its customers for losses sustained from blackouts.
"That may not be legally required of PG&E," Newsom told CapRadio Sunday. "That doesn't mean they shouldn't do it. And so there's two kinds of authority. There's formal authority and there's moral authority. We will try to use both to make PG&E do the right thing.
PG&E Corp. President Bill Johnson says he talked to Newsom Tuesday and told him he agreed with his suggestion that the company give credits to customers who've been hit by pre-emptive power shut-offs. Newsom had suggested $100 per household, or $250 per business.
The California Health and Human Services has established an emergency hotline to help those who are medically vulnerable and help health facilities find resources during the shutoffs. The hotline is (833) 284-3473.
CapRadio's Kacey Sycamore and the Associated Press contributed to this report
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