Nevada County businesses, residents cope with power shutdown
Grass Valley had 20 to 40 mph winds Sunday night, with gusts up to 60 mph. Ski resorts recorded winds up to 80-90 mph along the crests of the Sierra, the National Weather Service said.
Scott Rowe, a meteorologist at the weather service, said power was not shut off for naught.
“We do have a red flag warning out through that region all the way out through 5 p.m. (today),” Rowe said.
However, the high winds might not last for as long as initially thought.
Brandi Merlo, spokeswoman for PG&E, said as of Monday morning the utility company’s meteorologist team observed more favorable weather conditions than originally predicted.
Merlo said some areas of Nevada County have the “all clear,” which is necessary to start the search for damaged or downed power lines. The cleared areas Monday afternoon included Penn Valley, Lake Wildwood, South County and west of Lake of the Pines.
Merlo said given consistent weather reports, PG&E anticipates reenergizing Nevada County in full by this evening.
In the meantime, workers and students well seasoned in the COVID-19 crises now face a new obstacle — power outages and connectivity.
Elie Spalding is a seventh grader at Clear Creek Elementary School. On Monday she used the PG&E Community Resource Center on Idaho Maryland Road in Grass Valley to charge her family’s electronic devices.
Spalding has a generator at home that worked during the last outage, but “it’s temperamental.”
She said her school was scheduled to return half time to campus after its fall break this Monday, but the reunion was delayed because school was canceled. The timing of the outage coincided with the academic junction pretty perfectly, so she has not yet been tasked with homework.
“I’m not fond of power outages because it’s cold and very dark at nighttime,” Spalding said, “it’s difficult to see papers when you’re doing homework by candlelight.”
Further north, Amy Halter, a print and web designer based in Grass Valley, was at the Madelyn Helling Library, another PG&E-sponsored community resource center.
Monday was Halter’s second time using the locale’s charging resources and Wi-Fi to continue her work.
Halter said she does not mind the inconvenience the outage has on her digital-based job because “the winds are bad.”
“I hate to say it, but (PG&E is) spot on,” Halter said. “The winds are bad. It’s hard not to be conscious and able to pivot to make it worth it for everyone.”
Halter said she is grateful for the resource center, but regretted the space’s limited capacity.
“There are times when there’s a line,” Halter said.
Given the physical distancing guidelines, the center would be unable to handle much more than the 11 people there at 2:15 p.m. Monday.
“In times of COVID, it’s not enough,” Halter said.
LIGHT BY HEAD LAMP
Jeff Gortner is the service manager at Douglas Automotive. Early Monday, he navigated his office with a head lamp. The temperature inside was colder than the open air.
Gortner said his team devised a game plan to work through outages last year.
“When we came in today, we knew exactly what we needed to do,” Gortner said.
Gortner said the team got the generator up and running, but were unable to get the lifts working properly.
“We can normally hoist one car at a time, but there’s something going on in the electrical system that we need professionals to look at,” Gortner said
Gortner said Monday mornings are usually busy with calls from the weekend, but his driveway was particularly full Monday given the non-operating lifts.
The shutdown started around 3 p.m. Sunday, when PG&E cut power across western Nevada County as a preventative measure against wildfires.
Grass Valley’s downtown up to Sutton Way maintained power through the initial shut-off period. Downtown Nevada City lost power for approximately two hours before the lights returned to store windows — just after many stores’ 5 p.m. closing time.
According to a press release by PG&E, its Public Safety Power Shut-off was expected to affect some 361,000 customers across northern and central California.
Curt Ebner co-owns Lobos del Mar, a fair trade clothing company garment shop that supports indigenous families abroad by selling their handcrafted items on Broad Street. Ebner said the rolling outages are just one of many obstacles he has faced since opening his Nevada City shop in 2019.
“This year, right?” Ebner said on Sunday. “This is just one more thing after COVID.”
Following the outage’s start, Ebner relied on the sun’s western position to light up his store windows, keeping his doors open as neighboring shops closed theirs.
Without a generator, Ebner was unable to run card payments. If customers came without cash, Ebner considered various payment apps available on smart phones.
Ebner said he was half prepared for the outage, but confused because he heard Broad Street was on a different grid.
“There are two streets of the town that weren’t supposed to shut off,” Ebner said. “We don’t know what happened.”
‘IT IS WHAT IT IS’
Rudy Udarbe, the owner and operator of The Truffle Shop up the street from Lobos del Mar, was the sole business in the New York Hotel to remain open on Sunday.
“It is what it is,” Udarbe said of the shutdown’s forewarned duration — expected to last in some areas until 10 p.m. today. “I’m grateful it’s short.”
Udarbe said his sweets are well preserved by a chest freezer with extra ice, but he will be unable to brew coffee during the shutdown.
“I don’t have a generator because it’s too loud,” Udarbe said.
Udarbe said customers can enter his windowless chocolate and coffee shop using their cellphones’ flashlight feature to light the way.
“I’m not shutting down, because my customers can shop by flashlight,” Udarbe said.
Bartender Trish Connor of McGee’s Annex managed a dark bar on Sunday with more stools taken than not.
“It’s fun,” Connor said between serving drinks and taking cash. “We need someone with a guitar so we can start singing.”
Carolyn McFadden is a volunteer at Booktown Books on the corner of Bank and South Auburn streets in Grass Valley. McFadden said the downtown area was spared from the shut-off, but her home on the San Juan Ridge was not.
McFadden said she has a propane stove and a well on her property, but will be without running water until today.
“It ticks me off,” McFadden said.
McFadden prepared for the shut-off by washing her dishes — “I hate dirty dishes” — freezing gallon jugs of water and limiting her purchase of perishables.
McFadden said she understands the risks posed by leaving power on, but wishes PG&E would take more responsibility for maintaining its infrastructure.
“I can see it from both sides,” McFadden said, adding that she is grateful her needs are few at 74 years old. “In particular, people who have meds that need to be refrigerated or need oxygen.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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