PG&E power outages take toll on Bay Area students


Maya Brazil

According to a student survey conducted in 2020, PG&E power outages positively affected 6% of respondents while 43% were negatively affected. “Power outages are stressful, startling, and surprising because they interrupt distance learning,” said Emily Hall, a sophomore at Carlmont High School.

Power outages from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) are placing an immense burden on students as they ravage through the Bay Area.

The 2020-2021 school year has been particularly stressful for Bay Area students; the year started with the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced them to shift from in-person learning to distance learning. As the year progressed, wildfires began to threaten the west coast of the U.S.

PG&E power lines pose a fire hazard, as untrimmed vegetation may interfere with the power lines and spark a fire. Although many wildfires are unpredictable and spontaneous, some weather conditions, such as abnormally high wind speeds and hot temperatures, bear an increased fire risk. PG&E often takes preventive measures by shutting off electricity in locations with a high fire risk when these warning signs appear. 

Power outages are prevalent in the Bay Area, where wildfires occur annually. Many students have experienced power outages before this school year, but their impact has increased since the change in schooling.

“I experienced a power outage,” said Emily Hall, a sophomore. “I was in the middle of doing my homework. At first, I was very confused and surprised because I did not expect it at all.”

Although power outages are beneficial in preventing wildfires, Hall voiced concerns about their effects on online assignments for distance learning.

“I use a lot of technology for my homework; it’s pretty much all online,” Hall said. “So a power outage is really bad because I cannot go online or access my homework and assignments. If the outage is long enough, I may miss days of school.” 

Along with other distance learning-induced challenges, the lack of in-person communication also harms students who experience an outage.

“Before, most of the work you could complete on paper or you could go and talk to your teacher at lunch and explain your power outage situation, but now there is Zoom and less chance for you to talk individually with your teachers or in-person,” said Naomi Prince, a sophomore. “I know there are office hours, but maybe my power is off during office hours, then how do I reach [my teachers]?”  

Hall looked to the future, anticipating a need to prepare for more power outages.

“With the rainy season and high winds approaching this winter, power outages are inevitable,” Hall said. “If not because of the high winds and hot temperatures, the outages will be caused by rainstorms. Either way, there are more to come and we need to brace ourselves.”