PG&E's localized blackouts continue to anger customers

Pacific Gas and Electric's hair-trigger safety sensors keep causing the utility to have many localized blackouts that anger customers who lose time and money on them.   

Last July, PG&E made many of its automatic fast-trip sensors, more sensitive in high fire threat areas. These sensors shut the line off whenever they detect something that might make the line spark or fall onto dry vegetation. Since then, there have been some 350 power outages, unplanned, unannounced, instantaneous blackouts.

John Benedetti is the founder of Sante Arcangeli Family Wines in Aromas, where San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties meet. "This is the automatic tripping happening right now," said the vintner who complains that weekends-only tasting room is in Pescadero which loses all power during outages. "Our tasting room in Pescadero has been down, I want to say, four to five times out of the last two months," said Benedetti.

The weekend of the 18th, he says he had some large groups scheduled. "PG&E, without notice, cut our power at 11 a.m. So, five minutes before large groups who had booked weeks in advance, drove all the way out to Pescadero. We had to cancel their reservations," said the winemaker.

Fortunately Benedetti was able to obtain a generator for his winery that's long had outage problems. "We're down right now as we speak. It went down on Sunday night at about eight o'clock and it's still down," said Benedetti.

PG&E says the system is being readjusted to minimize the number and length of outages and cause far few fires. "We have seen an approximate 50% reduction in reportable CPUC ignitions, compared to the three-year average," said Mark Quinlan, PG&E's Wildfire Mitigation VP. 

Further tweaking, called optimization, should even yield better results. "The post-optimization outages are coming in smaller in most cases and, just by that, there's less infrastructure to patrol which speeds up the restoration efforts of the outage," said Mr. Quinlan.

When tiny Pescadero goes out, the whole town loses business as well as internet and cell service. One thought: have PG&E bring in a one of its fleet of generators to power the town of 200 folks plus infrastructure, until at least the heavy tourist season ends after Thanksgiving.