PGE Rolling Blackouts: What you Need to Know

PGE Rolling Blackouts: What you Need to Know

Last Updated on December 6, 2023 by Jeremy Pearl
Jul 16

In 2018, historic wildfires ravaged California. The Camp Fire destroyed the city of Paradise. It also caused an unprecedented 85 deaths and a widespread power outage.

Investigators found that equipment owned by California utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) (faulty equipment along the Caribou-Palermo electric transmission line) likely started the blaze. That line has since been permanently de-energized.

The admission generated a dramatic drop in PG&E’s profits. The company eventually filed for bankruptcy protection, citing $30 billion in liabilities.

Since then, PG&E has been taking an aggressive approach to fire safety in hopes of preventing a similar disaster. Their new plan, the Public Safety Power Shut-Off Program (PSPS), implements rolling blackouts throughout the state of California.

Although California has been using outages to decrease wildfire risk for years, PG&E’s new program has much broader implications than any program in the past.

Here’s what you need to know about the PG&E rotating outages and how they’ll impact you.

What are Rolling Blackouts?

Typically, rolling blackouts are reserved for severe events. Designed to prevent a total failure of the state power system, rolling blackouts kick in when operating reserves dip below 1.5%.

Here’s a brief breakdown of how rolling blackouts work in California:

  • In the eyes of utility companies, California is divided into large chunks. PG&E, for example, segments its service area into “blocks.”
  • When the state encounters a Stage 3 energy crisis, local electric suppliers receive a notification that it’s time to initiate load reduction statewide.
  • The suppliers then initiate a system of power outages that rotate (or “roll”) through service areas.
  • The outages move in numerical order – starting with block #1 and moving down the line until the blackout is over.
  • Critical facilities, such as hospitals, police stations, and fire departments, remain unaffected by the blackouts. The same is true for some residents who live near these vital facilities.

What’s the Purpose of the PG&E Planned Outages?

PG&E’s rotating outages address the energy crisis in California while also limiting fire danger in the state.

California is vulnerable to dry, windy weather, which boosts both fire risk and the possibility of electrical equipment sparking and starting a blaze.

By the end of 2023, experts estimate that disruptions will impact all 5.4 million of PG&E’s customer accounts.

According to PG&E:

“While customers in high fire-threat areas (based on the CPUC High Fire-Threat District map) are more likely to be affected, a public safety power outage could impact any of the more than 5 million customers who receive electric service from PG&E. This is because the energy system relies on power lines working together to provide electricity across cities, counties, and regions.”

This change is the result of PG&E’s shut-off program expansion and the fact that the program targets high-voltage transmission lines, like the ones suspected of starting the Camp Fire.

This aspect of the plan worries many customers.

If high-voltage transmission lines go dark, customers throughout the state will feel the impact. This is true even for households and businesses far outside “at-risk” areas.

If PG&E does shut down power to your home or business, it could be off for a day or longer. Currently, the utility recommends people prepare for outages lasting 48 hours or more.

What This Means for Businesses

Businesses will suffer a significant blow during the California PG&E rotating outages. Potential pitfalls include lost revenue, increased downtime, and system unpredictability.

While the utility issues two days’ notice to households enrolled in the company’s assistance program (those that need more energy due to a medical condition), there is no such known plan in place for businesses.

The company recommends that individuals and businesses supply the utility with a current email address, landline, and mobile number so PG&E “can reach out to you in advance of a Public Safety Power Shutoff event, when possible.”

PG&E’s EPSS Classification of Events

Recently, PG&E started tracking Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings (EPSS) “events.”

The EPSS system allows PG&E to turn off power lines when there are hazards, like high winds causing downed trees. This system is designed to reduce fire risk and keep people and infrastructure safe. That said, EPSS implementation can also cause widespread outages (or “events”) for PG&E customers in affected service areas.

Fortunately, PG&E has found a way to give those customers a break:

If a homeowner has had eight or more EPSS events since 1/1/2022, they may qualify for a $5,000 rebate toward a backup battery system. This $5,000 rebate is available on a first-come, first-served basis as long as funding lasts. For customers to qualify for the rebate, they must meet the following criteria:

  • Are residential electric service customers of PG&E.
  • Have experienced eight or more EPSS outages since January 1, 2022.
  • Installed and purchased a permanent residential battery after June 30, 2023 (The product must be on PG&E’s approved product list).
  • Are enrolled in PG&E’s Power Saver Rewards Program.
  • Are enrolled in a Time-of-Use Rate Plan.

What to do Instead

Businesses don’t have to settle for being in the dark when rolling blackouts hit. To avoid outages and their disastrous impacts on revenue, many companies have chosen to take matters into their own hands instead.

By installing microgrids (a system of solar panels, solar energy storage, and a natural gas generator), California businesses can fight back against rolling blackouts. These microgrids allow companies to be energy-independent and control their power, no matter what happens with the state’s fickle utility.

Homeowners, on the other hand, can combat the unpredictability of rolling blackouts by installing a solar panel system with battery backup. These systems allow you to store the excess power your solar panels produce and use it during peak pricing periods or times when the grid is down.

Want to learn more about microgrids and how they can improve your business?

Contact Sandbar Solar today and find out how you can own your power.

FAQs

How long do PG&E rolling blackouts last?

Most rolling blackouts last between 1-4 hours, although they may be longer or shorter depending on a variety of factors, such as the severity of the fire risk.

Does PG&E compensate for power outages?

Yes, under some circumstances. The PG&E Service Guarantee program provides payments for outages that are not caused by emergency events like severe storms. This program compensates customers $25 for each 24-hour period they have been without power after the initial 24 hours of an outage.

The Safety Net Program, meanwhile, compensates customers who go without power for 48 hours or longer due to severe storms and other events.

Is California doing rolling blackouts in 2023?

Yes, although state officials say they’ll be less likely in 2023, thanks to a large influx of money earmarked for modernizing the power grid and helping prevent power outages.

Who decides on rolling blackouts?

Power grid operators and utility companies like PG&E determine that a rolling blackout is needed and implement the blackout when required.

About the Author

Jeremy has worked in the solar industry since 2006. He has a Bachelor’s Degree from UC Santa Cruz in Environmental Studies. Jeremy has spent most of his solar career in residential sales and Sales Management in both California and Hawaii. He was raised in Santa Cruz County and is passionate about helping local residents make the switch to clean and reliable renewable energy. Jeremy lives on the Westside with his wife and two boys and enjoys music, photography and hiking in his personal time.