Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors is expressing “grave concerns” about Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) power safety shutoffs and Board Chair Rex Bohn has said that the blackouts won’t happen next year.
The county is among many that are pressuring PG&E to take steps to prevent the power shutoffs but is one of the few that doesn’t experience significant elevated fire risk weather conditions itself.
And at the Nov. 5 board meeting, supervisors approved sending a letter to PG&E demanding “an immediate plan to utilize our local power generation plants to energize the local grid and minimize the impact of future power safety shutoff events.”
Humboldt County has enough power generation to provide local electricity to major population centers on its own. But as the board’s letter points out, the Humboldt Bay Generating Station itself is powered by transmission lines from elevated fire risk areas outside of the county.
Supervisors vowed to change that.
“I think right from the very beginning, our message has been strong and clear: This is not appropriate and we need it addressed,” said Supervisor Estelle Fennell. “This letter is just underlining it and we will push forward.”
She added that the shutoffs demonstrate “how resilient we must make ourselves into the future” and the county will “keep pushing on this and I think we’re going to see some change pretty quickly.”
Bohn ventured a prediction there will be no further shutoffs after this season. He began to say he could “guarantee” it but he stopped mid-word and rephrased.
“I think we won’t have this issue next year because we’re going to be on this,” he said.
Fennell agreed and said, “We’re on it, yes.”
Earlier, Bohn said the local PG&E power plant can energize the county’s grid and PG&E tried to make that happen during the first shutoff on October 8.
“Since the first shutoff, I do know they have engineers working on the system,” he continued. “I firmly believe – I think they thought it was going to work because they told us, ‘We’re going to try to power up the plant and backfill the grid’ and I think they found out it didn’t.”
Bohn suggested that PG&E is paying attention to the county’s demands. “I think we’re getting the responses we need,” he said.
Another shutoff occurred on October 26 and as power was restored, residents were warned to prepare for another one. But PG&E issued contradictory information on the timing and at one point, the county’s Office of Emergency Services declared that the utility company had given “wrong information” on the impending shutoff.
Eventually, the shutoff was deemed unnecessary due to weather conditions and power wasn’t interrupted.
PG&E’s handling of the situation has been roundly criticized but Bohn credited PG&E’s “local management” for its messaging. “The talking heads, not so much,” he added. “They were telling us out of Santa Rosa what was going to happen and it didn’t happen but we got better information from our local people.”
Supervisor Mike Wilson said county residents were led to believe a “mythology” that power generation could be locally isolated in a so-called energy island. “I think there were many people within PG&E who were just as shocked as we were that the larger bureaucracy just didn’t perform in the way that they thought it would,” he continued.
Bohn contrasted that with the actions of county staff and residents. “At the end of the day, if nothing else, Humboldt shined,” he said.
The letter is co-signed by County Sheriff Billy Honsal and also asks PG&E to hold a public forum or address the board to “explain why in the planning and construction of the new PG&E power plant, there was no allowance for a dedicated grid that would allow for the switching of power from the existing power plant during these events.”
Bohn said PG&E has indicated that it is “working on a formal response to us” and an update on it is expected this week.