Public safety power shutoff hits the San Geronimo Valley hardest

10/28/2020

Power was shut off in Nicasio, the San Geronimo Valley and Stinson Beach for a day this week, as PG&E aims to reduce the fire threat by de-energizing when the weather is risky. The utility fulfilled its goal of making the shutoffs far shorter and less widespread than they were last year, when all of Marin lost power for four days. The impact was still pervasive: Schools and businesses were closed, food was spoiled, and work-from-home routines were disrupted. Restaurants and stores already facing adversity from the pandemic, wildfires and smoky air were hit hard—especially those without a generator. “It’s a pain in the ass, but if it keeps us from burning down, we’ll take it,” said Mike Duke, a manager at Rancho Nicasio. At the Woodacre Market, owner Hanna Anki wanted to stay open, particularly for elderly neighbors who don’t drive and for those without kitchens, so he brought in 50 bags and 12 blocks of ice, though just a few customers came in for coffee. At the Two Bird Café, owner Tony Miceli threw away all of his prepared food on Sunday night once the power went out; after it was restored on Tuesday morning, he took Wednesday off to order and prep everything again. “It’s another challenge in this environment that seems to have a new challenge every week,” he said. Nicasio School closed for in-person instruction, while Lagunitas School tried for some distance learning. But with Comcast internet not functioning, cell service going in and out, and no power to charge devices, teachers scaled back expectations and most students worked on previously assigned projects. A few parents went to campus to pick up books and worksheets, chatting in the parking lot. One parent worried about her child’s expensive insulin going bad in the refrigerator, and another parent remarked that she had given up on her workday of Zoom meetings because the internet was down. The outages were puzzling: The air was barely moving, with wind speeds in the valley in the single digits, well below PG&E’s 20-mile-per-hour standard for de-energizing. But winds reached 40 miles per hour at higher elevations like Mount Tamalpias, where humidity had also dropped below 20 percent. Deanna Contreras, a company spokeswoman, said in an email that the combination of high winds, extremely low humidity and record-dry fuels on the ground threatened portions of the electric system. During the shutoff, generators powered substations in Bolinas and Olema, allowing most of the coast to keep the lights on. A transmission line runs through the valley so sectioning off parts of the grid there is not possible. After de-energizing on Sunday evening, helicopters began low flights over the lines on Monday. Power was restored in Stinson Beach on Monday afternoon, in Lagunitas, Forest Knolls and San Geronimo on Monday evening, and in Woodacre on Tuesday.