PG&E Shut Off and How it Could Affect The San Lorenzo Valley

Written by Lucas Murawsky (News Writer)

With higher winds and a warmer climate, PG&E power shut offs are getting more and more common.  PG&E only do these kinds of shutoffs during a severe wind event and or a severe heat wave. “We only use this in weather events so severe, that people’s safety, their lives, their homes and businesses may be in danger,” PG&E Spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said. “This is our last resort option” said PG&E Incident Commander Mark Quinlan.

When severe weather is forecasted, a PSPS outage watch goes into effect, then if necessary a outage warning will go into effect which means power is required to be shut off in certain areas, after that the actual outage will happen, then after the severe weather has passed, inspection crews will come out to check and repair any damaged utility equipment, once everything is cleared the power will then be restored. 

How will the PG&E PSPS events affect us and the San Lorenzo Valley? When Deputy Superintendent Of The San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District, Chris Schiermeyer was asked:  How will the PSPS Events affect our current online schooling system? Schermeyer responded, “The online format does allow for some latitude with Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) over the traditional in-school setting.  In the event of a PSPS and the fact that we are often unsure of who and when the actual outage will impact, we have asked teachers to prepare offline lessons for students to complete. We always recommend for students to log onto their classes each period to check to see if their teacher was able to conduct the class online.” 

What are some pros and cons about the shutoffs? “The pros to the PSPS is a safety precaution.  Often with high winds and dry conditions, there may be a chance for utility lines to cause a fire, and having the PSPS reduces that risk. The con is getting a clear direction as to when the outage will be and which school(s) will be impacted in order to make an accurate decision to close school(s). For example, during the last PSPS, the message was an outage would occur from Wednesday at 8 pm to Friday at 8 pm with 5 school meters to be out. Later that information changed to Wednesday from 8 pm until Thursday at 2 am and the final result was no outage occurred for the schools.  In addition, if we close schools there is a chance we will have to make up that day at the end of the year and for that reason, we take the decision to close school very seriously. Finally, the uncertainty if an outage will actually occur and if the outage itself occurs, causes a disruption to the instructional delivery whether we were in school or online.”  

What would we do about school if a shutoff happened in the entire valley? “If we were informed that the entire valley was going to have a PSPS, and that was 100% confirmed, then we would most likely make the decision to close schools.  If given additional preparation notification by PG&E, there may be a chance in the online format to provide offline assignments to students in lieu of closing schools. Schools are required to have 180 days of instruction. When we close schools, we lose days of instruction and we have to submit a waiver to the state to approve the closure and not penalize us for the closure. The state looks at the last five years as a trend and if you consistently put in waivers for lost school days due to closures, which SLVUSD has, the district will have to build in days to the calendar to offset the possibility of future school closures.”  

The PG&E power shut offs also known as PSPS events started to happen after the paradise fire (also known as the camp fire started by a down power line). That fire burnt over 150,000 acres and is now known as the most destructive and deadliest wildfire in California history. PG&E was in a huge lawsuit and then started to do PSPS events to help prevent wildfires like those again.

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