Safety and shutoffs

PG&E says it is fine-tuning new procedures that have led to power outages stretching from Half Moon Bay south to the Santa Cruz county line and beyond in recent weeks. Photo courtesy PG&E

The South Coast was hit with more power outages this weekend, affecting nearly 3,000 residents who were without power from midday Saturday to late afternoon on Sunday.

PG&E spokeswoman Mayra Tostado wrote in an email to the Review that the outage was a result of new fire prevention technology that knocks out power immediately when an object hits a power line to prevent sparks that could cause a wildfire. No damage or hazards were found as a result of the latest outage on the coast, Tostado wrote.

For Coastside residents, who got no warning they would be out of power for the next 28 hours, the weekend felt like a new trend. The same group of residents from Miramontes Point Road in Half Moon Bay all the way south to the county line have lost power three out of the last four weekends this month.

San Gregorio resident Amber Stariha said she and her neighbors have struggled each weekend without power, and usually no cell or internet connection, either. For residents who have wells and no backup generators, power outages can also knock out their water pumps, Stariha said. She’s also beginning to be suspicious of the timing — that all three recent outages have occurred on weekends, with no inclement weather, doesn’t feel to her like a coincidence.

“People are getting really concerned, wondering what this will be like in the winter,” Stariha said. “If it's going to trigger this easily, are we going to be going even longer without power?”

According to Tostado, since the new, more sensitive line settings were instituted at the end of July, PG&E has seen a more than 50 percent decrease in ignitions that could have sparked new wildfires as compared to the past three years. The increased sensitivity of the system is designed to quickly shut off power if an object or other disturbance affects live lines or the electrical system. Before restoring power, PG&E crews patrol the entire power line and make repairs before restoring power.

In a press release, PG&E’s Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Marlene Santos said the company realizes the hardship the outages are having on communities and is working to make them shorter and less frequent by fine-tuning the sensitivity and coordination of each detection device.

“Everybody is in favor of fire safety,” Stariha said. “However, having this system be so sensitive, it's creating a problem.”

The intermittent outages, also affecting residents in Santa Cruz County, has prompted U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo to send a letter to PG&E demanding an explanation and pressuring the company to improve its reliability, citing the danger of sustained outages to vulnerable rural residents.

For Ocean Colony resident Bob Feldman, the intermittent outages feel counterproductive to PG&E’s Planned Safety Power Shutoff strategy, which is typically to inform residents about upcoming outages so they can prepare. He’s also been frustrated by the lack of follow-up from the utility about the cause of outages.

“It's the communication side,” Feldman said. “What is going on and why can't you let us know what is happening, how you can fix it, what are we learning and if this is something we can expect now regularly?”

(5) comments

Patrick McKee

5th weekend IN A ROW for some of us all for the joy of being charged 54 cents per kWh, time of use. HMB going electrification-only and banning natural gas is brilliant, just brilliant.

Zack B

Preventative maintenance and capital improvement are not very high on the list of PGE priorities despite their public pronouncements. This is because they get in the way of stockholders' dividends and top executive bonuses.

Coastside Defender

Having a large block of legacy shares of P.G. & E stock which is worth a small fraction of what it was when inherited I can assure you we haven't received dividends for years. The drought and the horrible fires have put the company in a bind. All the amateur "experts" seem to know what the solutions should be. "Put them underground!!" Sure, you want to add 50 billion dollars in cost to your rates, they will do it. This a complex and changing problem as the drought and forest health declines. There are no easy solutions and accusations without facts make the situation worse.

August West

Defending PG&E is maniacal.

Shifting blame for decades of mismanagement and political graft via the CPUC to drought and fires they caused would almost be hilarious if it did not have such tragic consequences.

novaks47

Part of the issue, is they have one trip point at the HMB substation, and it knocks out power to a large portion of the coast. PG&E then will not switch it back on until their helicopter has inspected all the lines, which takes several hours. Poor design, plus the inspection after no adverse weather is bizarre. This past Saturday, there was nary a breeze on a clear day, yet off it went. After working and commuting all week, not having power or running water on the weekends is quite maddening, particularly as it seems to happen for no reason at all.

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