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LID-powered River Islands susceptible to PG&E outages

Those living in River Islands and hoping that the power supplied by the Lathrop Irrigation District will save them from potential widespread PG&E outages this summer may just be out of luck.

During a meeting of the Lathrop City Council on Monday night, residents learned that even the independent power provider on the opposite side of the San Joaquin River is serviced by the same PG&E transmission lines that may lead to widespread outages in Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon, and other communities along the route. 

The disclosure was part of a presentation by a PG&E community relations official that aimed to update the public on the potential outages that could come as the calendar gets deeper into California’s ever-lengthening fire season. 

The reason that all of Lathrop is susceptible to the same outages that have driven up generator sales and led to near panic amongst the communities that may be affected, according to Dylan George of PG&E, is that LID is serviced by the same transmission lines that may be de-energized if and when the decision is made to cut power to limit the potential exposure in high-risk wildfire areas in the Sierra Nevada foothills. 

The program, now in its second year, marks the first time that the company will consider cutting main transmission lines after a devastating fire season last year that proved to the worst in state history. While the program was in place last year, it included only cutting the power to distribution lines in certain fire-prone parts of the state. 

While the tone of the exchange between the public and the PG&E representative was civil, it was at times pointed as residents voiced their frustrations about not knowing when or if their power could be cut off and included concerns about food spoilage and public safety. 

One resident, Michelle Madden, initially called for civility when addressing comments to George, but took her own shots at a company that has come under fire over the last two years for the role their equipment played in destructive fires that claimed dozens of lives and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings — arguing that residents need to make their points not just to the representative that the company sends, but the elected officials that voters put into office.

“The state is not taking our lives seriously here, as PG&E is strong-arming us,” Madden said pointedly. “PG&E, in the state of California, is monopoly and we are being strong-armed. They are coming in and choosing to do this to our lives.

“This is a man-made choice to cut off our power, so when PG&E and your bosses and everybody tells you, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you because it’s an Act of God,’ it’s not an Act of God.”

Prior to George’s presentation, which covered much of the same material that was disseminated during a meeting with the Manteca City Council last month, the City of Lathrop detailed it’s ongoing work to ensure that the delivery of essential services — police and fire service and water and sewer service, in addition to others — remain unaffected during the potential power outage that could last as long as five days. 

George commended the City of Lathrop for its foresight and planning, something that Lathrop Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neely said has been in the works for some time so that the city is able to respond to any sort of a disaster situation. But he noted that there is no way of currently knowing when or if the decision to cut power to the transmission line to Lathrop and other neighboring communities will be made. The decision will be made based on a variety of factors, George said, including wind speeds in high-risk areas, humidity levels, and the status of vegetation which tends to dry out more throughout the summer making it extremely volatile in the fall months. 

The company will continue holding town halls both in person — next for the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors — and online for those who are unable to attend.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.