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October 23, 2021

PG&E responds to local power outages

SOUTH COUNTY—Saying that the outages South Santa Cruz County’s rural residents have experienced “are not acceptable,” Pacific, Gas and Electric Company representatives told the public Thursday that they are currently adjusting equipment throughout the area in hopes of lessening the length and occurrence of the shutoffs.

Speaking at a virtual town hall meeting organized by PG&E and Santa Cruz County 2nd District Supervisor Zach Friend, the utility’s Vice President of Wildfire Mitigation Operations and Execution, Mark Quinlan, said that sensors installed on power poles to mitigate wildfire risks have produced a 50% decrease in potential ignitions. But the sensitivity of the sensors, Quinlan admitted, has also caused several outages in South County since late July. Power went out six times in the Green Valley area and another half-dozen outages occurred in Aptos Hills-Larkin Valley.

“It’s way too many and we understand that,” Quinlan said.

The outages, Quinlan said, have been a result of a variety of objects, animals and weather conditions touching or affecting power lines and tripping the equipment’s new sensors hastily installed in preparation for this year’s fire season.

But the utility says it has over the past week made adjustments to the system that will, it hopes, not only lower the number of outages in the near future but be able to identify and restore power more quickly. Crews are expected to continue their work over the next few weeks, the reps said. That includes increased inspection of “high-priority” vegetation issues that have been the culprit of previous wildfires and the recent outages. They are also making it tougher for animals to nest and climb on the power poles.

Along with those adjustments, the utility says it will increase its customer outreach before, during and after power outages through letters, social media, automated calls and email.

PG&E reps fielded about a dozen questions during the town hall, which lasted about an hour-and-a-half. That included why the utility had implemented the new shut-off program so quickly and without giving residents much notice.

Quinlan said that last year’s fire season—the worst in the state’s history—spurred PG&E’s fast move. And, although there has been an increased number of outages throughout the county’s rural regions, the new sensors have done what they were designed to do: lower wildfire risk.

“It’s great news,” he said. “Nobody wants a fire … we’re seeing tremendous results.”

Yet, less than 24 hours after the town hall some 2,390 customers in South County lost power again. The outage, according to the PG&E website, began just before 8am. The utility estimated power would be restored around 3:45pm.

The town hall was one of two scheduled for Thursday. The PG&E reps were set to hold another in the evening with San Lorenzo Valley residents, who have seen several power outages over the past two weeks.

Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.

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