Pacific Gas & Electricity cut power to 800,000 of its customers in Northern California on Wednesday in order to lessen the risk of wildfires sparked by downed power lines during the Santa Ana winds. These customers include grocery stores stocked with perishable foods. The Times-Standard in Humboldt, California, checked in with several grocers and food pantries to learn how they handled the outage.
North Coast Co-op in Arcata has standard emergency procedures, but those are for outages lasting four to six hours, the general manager, Melanie Bettenhausen, told the Times-Standard, and no one knew how long the outage would last. The store also didn’t get enough advance notice from the power company to secure a refrigerated truck. Bettenhausen said the choice was either to shut down the store and hope the power came back on before everything got too warm to sell or to mark everything down drastically and get it off the shelves. Grocery Dive reports many California grocery stores do have small generators capable of powering their lights and registers, but demand is high for rental generators that can keep refrigerators and freezers running.
The co-op went with option two. It did a ton of business, but it didn’t turn a profit since everything was 50% off. Still, the food didn’t go to waste, and Bettenhausen hopes the store brought in enough goodwill to bring customers back.
The Times-Standard also talked to Food for People, a nonprofit that provides food through a community pantry and other programs. Anne Holcombe, the executive director, said she was able to get 500 pounds of dry ice to preserve the holiday turkeys that had been delivered last Friday and secure a generator for the food pantry. The nonprofit also donated 75 dozen eggs to the Eureka Rescue Mission. Still, they lost 45 pounds of meat and 395 dozen eggs. Holcombe is now concerned about her clients on food stamps who do most of their shopping at the beginning of the month when their benefits come in.
As of this morning, 300,000 PG&E customers remain without electricity. The winds are now moving down toward Southern California, where the electric company has already started cutting power.