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Power Outages: PG&E Responds

Staff Report

Thanks to citizen outrage and outreach to PG&E over frequent and increasing power outages in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the public utility held an online community meeting on September 24.

Residents and recent outage maps reported dozens of service interruptions lasting from 45 minutes to 9 hours or more. The problem arose after PG&E installed their new tripwire safety system that shuts off power when something comes in contact with the line – such as wind, wildlife, and falling branches. Teresa Alvarado, Vice President, South Bay & Central Coast Region, said, “This measure is effectively helping to prevent wildfires, but the lengthy outages that you have experienced are not acceptable.” Alvarado confirmed that recent outages had, in some cases, been triggered by squirrels.

Advocates have long asked for the type of line switches that power companies use in Los Angeles and San Diego. These switches do cut power to lines when there’s any interruption. But they also notify the company of where the interrupted line is. In addition, San Diego has segmented their grid into sections of only a couple of blocks. Not only does this limit the number of people affected by the outage, but it makes it much faster to find the interrupted line and assess it.

PG&E admitted that the reclosers they’re using for their program don’t tell them the location of the outage. And that they needed to do a better job of isolating segments of the grid to limit the size of the outages and the time it takes them to find the fault and fix it. Mark Quinlan, PG&E’s Vice President of Wildfire Mitigation Operations and Execution, confirmed that crews are working on fine-tuning the local system to do just that. “We’ve already made some improvements that make the outages smaller,” he said.

PG&E did note that the new program had halved the number of “ignitions” they would have usually experienced in August and September. Though they also admitted the outages have been unacceptable — 34 since the program started. Quinlan addressed the utility’s service issues, noting that while the outages will not go away, they will become shorter. In terms of outreach, he said, “We understand we missed the mark on communications. We understand we missed the mark on response.”

For those hoping for reimbursement for fuel to run generators or for spoiled food, PG&E representatives said they won’t do that. They recommended customers go to select food banks where you’ll qualify for 3 days’ worth of food. Seniors also qualify for 2 meals a day during outages from Meals on Wheels.

They also urge everybody to:

  • Go to to update your information so you can receive notices.
  • Email for updates, questions, or concerns. They committed to respond within 48 hours.
  • Go to the App Store to download their reporting app. Use your phone to take pictures of dangerous conditions and send it to them with other information so they can respond.
  • Check out to see what types of backups might be right for your needs. They have programs to help customers pay for them, but they’re very limited. You need to be a senior with a well pump and a need for medical devices. Plus, the program has a waiting list.

If you’re still having problems, you can also complain to the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E:

Photo by Mary Andersen

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