Update: Sections of the Palo Alto Hills are expected to see power go out around noon on Wednesday, Oct. 9. Read our latest story here.
About 250,000 Bay Area PG&E electric customers are at risk of losing their power starting Wednesday as the utility company plans to pre-emptively shut down power due to dangerous weather conditions, PG&E staff said.
The shutoffs, called "Public Safety Power Shutoffs," may affect 256,996 PG&E customers in the Bay Area. On Tuesday afternoon, the San Francisco-based utility company said the shutoffs will occur in portions of 34 counties in the state starting early Wednesday just after midnight.
Though Palo Alto is served by City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU), the city intakes electricity from PG&E's transmission system. In the event PG&E shuts off transmission lines in the Bay Area, power outages may affect Palo Alto Utilities' roughly 28,000 customers, utilities staff stated on the city's website. Palo Alto Utilities may shut off power to some customers in the foothills, according to a post on the city's Palo Alto Connect blog.
The weather is expected to be dry and windy, which makes the risk of a catastrophic wildfire high, PG&E staff said. The company wants to shut off power so its electric equipment doesn't start a wildfire as has happened in the past two years.
In a statement, Michael Lewis, senior vice president for PG&E's electric operations, said, "This is shaping up to be one of the most severe dry wind events we've seen in our territory in recent years."
Lewis said company staff want customers to be prepared for an outage that may last several days. On Monday night, he called the situation involving the weather this week "evolving." Power may be off for several days because after the weather improves, lines and equipment need to be inspected before power is turned back on.
Wind plays an important role in the decision and PG&E says winds are expected to be at their peak early Wednesday morning through midday Thursday. PG&E has its own meteorological team that monitors the weather.
Palo Alto plans to continue delivering city services as normal, including public safety and fire station operations; and necessities such as water, gas and sewer services, according to the city. Should an outage occur, the city plans to close certain facilities that will be detailed on its Twitter, Facebook and NextDoor accounts.
In a notice issued Tuesday, the Palo Alto Unified School District doesn't expect any of its school sites to be impacted by the possible power shutoff on Wednesday. Should Palo Alto Unified facilities be impacted by the shutoffs, the district aims to maintain normal operations and school hours.
Also on Tuesday, Caltrain and SamTrans plan to continue operations should a power shutoff occur in its facilities and service areas, according to a press release from the San Mateo County Transit District, which administrates both transit operations.
As of late Monday afternoon, Stanford University said Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, located in the foothills and west of the main campus, could be affected by the possible power shutoffs. However, university leaders don't anticipate the main campus, Stanford Redwood City campus and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory will be affected, they said in a community alert.
In Santa Clara County, 38,123 residential and business customers could be without power, including those in parts of Palo Alto, San Jose, Morgan Hill, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Redwood Estates, Milpitas, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Coyote, Gilroy, Mount Hamilton and Holy City (unincorporated Santa Clara County).
The San Mateo County communities and cities that could be affected include Half Moon Bay, El Granada, Woodside, Moss Beach, Montara, Portola Valley, Pescadero, La Honda, Redwood City, San Gregorio, Loma Mar, San Mateo, Menlo Park, Emerald Hills, Pacifica and Princeton.
In all, 14,766 San Mateo County customers may lose electricity.
Dozens of communities in Alameda, Contra Costa, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties are also at risk of losing power.
Ahead of a possible power outage, Palo Alto Utilities recommends the public prepare an emergency supply kit that includes water, food, medicine, batteries and flashlights to last for several days. The agency also advises the public make plans to meet with family or neighbors if their cellphones run out of battery power. Drivers are also advised to keep their gas tanks full.
Approximately 350,000 more customers in other regions of northern and central California may be affected by the Public Safety Power Shutoff for a total of about 600,000 in this possible shutdown operation, according to PG&E.
The utility's customers may be affected even though they are living in an area that isn't affected by dangerous fire conditions because an area may be served by a system that originates in an area that is affected by extreme weather, PG&E officials said.
PG&E set up a webpage with a map showing where power outages may occur, but the company's website went down Tuesday morning due to what the utility said was a "high volume of traffic" from people looking up information related to a possible public safety power shutoff.
The utility wrote on Twitter to apologize for the website problems.
"We are currently experiencing high volume of traffic to our website & understand your frustration w/ the delay of accessing #PSPS related web pages," PG&E wrote. "We apologize for the convenience and thank you for your patience as our team is working as quickly as possible to restore access."
Information on power outages in Palo Alto is available here and by contacting the Utilities Customer Service Center by calling 650-329-2161 or UtilitiesCustomerService@CityofPaloAlto.org.