What’s the difference between a rotating power outage and a PSPS?

The low-down on Public Safety Power Shutoffs - why they happen and how you can prepare

By
Katie Overmonds
on
September 17, 2020
Category:
Climate Change
Tags:

When the power goes out, the first thoughts that come to my mind, without fail, are something along the lines of: 

  • “Is it just my apartment or is the rest of the street out too?” or … 
  • “Shoot! Dinner is half cooked. Now what do I do?!” (expletive adjusted for family reading purposes.) or …
  • “Is all the food in my fridge going to spoil?” or, in my more anxiety-ridden moments, … 
  • “How long could I survive on just the food in my pantry and patio garden planter? How self sufficient am I, really?

I can say confidently that I’m NOT thinking about my inconvenience perhaps actually helping prevent an even worse outcome than my food spoiling — a forest fire — but in some cases, that’s just what it is!  

What is a PSPS? 

A “Public Safety Power Shutoff” (or “PSPS” as you may have heard it referred to) is a plan made by the utility to shut off large sections of the electric grid, usually to prevent fire.  

Hot, dry and windy conditions may substantially increase the risk of a wildfire. If a power line were to fall or spark under these conditions it could potentially start a fire. Utility companies sometimes decide to shut off power to reduce the risk of wildfires caused by electrical equipment.

The L.A. Times reported that it’s likely that 10 or more fires were started in California by PG&E equipment in this way in 2019 alone. 


So how is a PSPS different from a rotating power outage?


A rotating power outage is something altogether different and happens when there is too much demand for electricity, leading to too much strain on the grid. This would typically happen on exceptionally hot days (hello, summer 2020!) or if there’s an issue with electricity supply, or sometimes both. Oy. 

When this happens, the CAISO (the overseer of all utilities in California) may ask your electricity provider to turn off power to specific areas to “force” a reduction in demand. 

But did you know that there’s a way for Californians to help our communities avoid this kind of outage altogether, and actually get rewarded for helping out the grid? 

It’s a free, secure service called OhmConnect, that actually pays its customers to use less energy in times like these when there’s too much demand for electricity. It works like this: 

  1. PG&E, SCE, SDG&E customers can sign up for a free, secure OhmConnect account. 
  2. You link your utility information to OhmConnect so they can let you know when you need to reduce
  3. You receive notifications of “#OhmHours”, the moment when conservation is critical
  4. If you can use less energy than you’re forecasted to, you earn rewards like cash payments or the chance to win big prizes. New kitchen appliances, anyone? 

Feel unprepared for a power outage of any kind? Check out these nine tips for being prepared and staying safe during a power outage, planned or otherwise.

Katie Overmonds

Katie is an award-winning journalist and digital strategist with more than 10 years of experience in print and digital media and a passion for the environment and fighting climate change.

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