PG&E crewmembers on Highway 1 in Morro Bay use a piece of equipment called the Spider to set a utility pole in place. Photo courtesy of PG&E
The recent string of storms that roared through San Luis Obispo County and much of the state left many without electricity. Locally, PG&E was on the scene and behind the scenes working to restore power, although some in Los Osos had a longer wait.
SLO County is in the utility company’s Los Padres region. During the height of the storm, Communications Representative, Carina Corral said PG&E had more than 7,500 personnel dedicated to restoring power throughout the service territory where more than 22,000 customers were without power.
“Approximately 80% of all customers have been restored within 12 hours, and more than 90% have had power restored within 24 hours,” Corral told EBN.
As of Jan. 17, crews had restored power to more than 2.7 million customers since the initial storm on New Year’s Eve weekend.
Power outages were to be expected with the unprecedented winds and rain raging for hours on end. However, people living in the Cuesta by the Sea area of Los Osos were in the dark longer than most.
“Our crews worked vigorously and safely to restore power as quickly as it was safe to do so,” Corral said. “During times of the storm, high winds, flooding, and soil instability issues made it unsafe for crews to work, which led to extended outages for some of our customers. There were also repeat outages, such as in Los Osos, caused by storm conditions.”
On Wednesday, January 4, some residents were without power for 19 hours. Then on Jan. 9, PG&E had to “cut power to Morro Bay and portions of Los Osos due to flooding of their local infrastructure,” the City of Morro Bay’s website stated. Power was restored about six hours later. Much of Cuesta By the Sea was without power for the third time on Jan. 10 for about five hours.
“During this recent storm, accessibility issues were the main factor for extended outages,” Corral said. “While some customers may have had their power restored sooner than others, it’s likely because flooding, debris, road closures, soil instability or other weather-related conditions prevented our crews from safely accessing power lines to re-energize the lines for those customers.”
While having no electricity was easily evident, behind the scenes work going on that required “out of the box” thinking and action was not as easily noticed.
“In one case in Los Osos [on Jan. 5 on South Bay Blvd and State Park Rd.], a crane hoisted our linemen to power lines made inaccessible by floodwaters,” Corral said. “This was an extensive process that took time to safely get the crane in place and allow our linemen to cut branches off power lines before they could be re-energized.”
Crews got creative again on Jan 11 on Highway 1 in Morro Bay.
“They utilized a piece of equipment nicknamed the ‘Spider’ that crawls saturated mountainsides – that our typical trucks can’t drive – carrying power poles,” Corral said. “It has the capability to dig a hole and set the replacement pole.”
Although the goal under these types of outages is to restore power as rapidly as possible, safety comes first and things have to be prioritized, such as making repairs to power plants and substations followed by critical areas like hospitals, life support centers, fire stations, and police stations.
“The process of the outage restoration [is] that we assess the damage and restore power when it’s safe to do so,” Corral said. “The number of people affected by the outage is a factor in prioritizing the work, and safety will always be our top responsibility.”
Ultimately, downed trees were the cause of many of the outages locally during the two weeks of storms
“With the ground saturated, it won’t take much more rain or wind to topple trees, damage our infrastructure and cause more outages,” Corral said. “PG&E prepares by pre-staging crews and equipment ahead of storms to ensure we are ready to respond and restore power as quickly as it is safe to do so.”
While many turned to their cell phones to get view real-time outage information an PG&E’s alerts, another source is available. PG&E began publishing county-specific outage information throughout the day and is posting regular updates on its storm response at www.pgecurrents.com. To directly get to outages by county, go to https://bit.ly/3IQ4nuG.
Residential customers who go without power for 48 hours or even longer due to severe events like storms may qualify for the PG&E Safety Net program, which pays $25 to $100 automatically 60 to 120 days after the outage. The amount may depend on the outage length.
Residential customers living in an area where access to PG&E’s electric facilities are blocked due to mudslides, road closures or other issues are ineligible for a Storm Inconvenience Payment.
Since a State of Emergency in California was declared following the storms, PG&E’s consumer protections are in effect for impacted customers. PG&E will:
• Stop estimated billing for impacted customers while they are evacuated from their homes or businesses.
• Stop billing customers whose homes or businesses were destroyed by the winter storms.
• Allow customers who apply for low-income programs like CARE/FERA to automatically participate. (Specifically, PG&E will not require the proof of income documents that are normally needed.)
• For homes or businesses destroyed by the storms, PG&E will not require customers to pay a deposit when electric or gas power restarts after the property is rebuilt.
As a reminder for future storms:
• Never touch downed wires: If you see a downed power line, assume it is energized and extremely dangerous. Do not touch or try to move it — and keep children and animals away. Report downed power lines immediately by calling 9-1-1 and then PG&E at 1-800-743-5002.
• Use generators safely: Customers with standby electric generators should ensure they are properly installed by a licensed electrician in a well-ventilated area. Improperly installed generators pose a significant danger to customers, as well as crews working on powerlines. If using portable generators, be sure they are in a well-ventilated area.
• Use flashlights, not candles: During a power outage, use battery-operated flashlights and not candles, due to the risk of fire.
• Have a backup phone: If you have a telephone system that requires electricity to work, plan to have a standard telephone or cellular phone ready as a backup. Having a portable charging device helps to keep your cell phone running.
• Have fresh drinking water and ice: Freeze plastic containers filled with water to make blocks of ice that can be placed in your refrigerator/freezer to prevent food spoilage.
• Turn off appliances: If you experience an outage, unplug or turn off all electrical appliances to avoid overloading circuits and to prevent fire hazards when power is restored. Simply leave a single lamp on to alert you when power returns.
• Safely clean up: After the storm has passed, be sure to safely clean up. Never touch downed wires and always call 8-1-1 or visit 811express.com at least two full business days before digging to have all underground utilities safely marked.