Last week, utility company Pacific Gas and Electric shut off power to tens of thousands of Northern California residents and businesses citing wildfire concerns. Included in the blackout were a number of Napa and Sonoma County wineries in the middle of harvest—many of whom struggled to secure temporary generators to continue production.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, wineries in the North Bay that were able to rent last-minute generators were required to pay construction fees for their installation, in addition to roughly $1,500 per day to power crushing equipment and to keep fermentation tanks at set temperatures.
For most, time was a concern. PG&E only made the blackout plans public on Monday, Oct. 7. By Tuesday morning, the company’s website had crashed and many Californians had no way to determine if or when their power would be affected. In addition to wineries, a number of nursing homes, private residences, and public roads went dark without warning.
As reported by The New York Times, PG&E is currently facing $30 billion in liabilities.
In 2018 a PG&E transmission line was blamed for the Camp Fire, California’s most destructive wildfire which killed more than 80 people in the town of Paradise; in 2015 two people were killed in the Butte Fire when a PG&E power line came into contact with a pine tree; and in 2010 a PG&E pipeline exploded in the city of San Bruno, killing eight people. In addition, roughly 40 smaller wildfires have allegedly been started by PG&E equipment since 2017.
A number of these fires, including both the Butte and Camp Fires, have subsequently affected wine production in the Bay Area with their ash and smoke.
On Oct.12, @PG&E tweeted:
#PSPS Update: All Customers Impacted by Safety Shutoffs Have Now Been Restored. https://t.co/uwCkbmbusD pic.twitter.com/tXV7rp9K8g
— Pacific Gas & Electric (@PGE4Me) October 13, 2019
According to SF Gate, PG&E has added a new round of power outages yesterday, Wednesday, October 23rd and today, October 25th for 179,000 northern California residents.
Laura Jaye Cramer is a freelance writer based in California and has written for SF Weekly, GOOD, and PAPER Magazine. Read more Laura Jaye Cramer for Sprudge Wine.