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PG&E plans power outages starting Wednesday; they could affect Palo Alto too

Original post made on Oct 8, 2019

PG&E plans to pre-emptively shut down power due to dangerous weather starting Wednesday, and although the agency doesn't serve Palo Alto Utilities customers directly, they still could be affected.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, October 8, 2019, 9:41 AM

Comments (39)

35 people like this
Posted by OldPA Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 8, 2019 at 12:26 pm

OldPA Resident is a registered user.

Does it make sense to shut off electric power to 600,000 people in order to prevent a possible wildfire in a remote part of the state that could be caused by blundering PG&E's failure to maintain its transmission equipment? The State of California should prohibit PG&E from making Public Safety Power Shutoffs. These shutoffs do not improve "public safety."


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2019 at 1:25 pm

Posted by OldPA Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> Does it make sense to shut off electric power to 600,000 people in order to prevent a possible wildfire in a remote part of the state that could be caused by blundering PG&E's failure to maintain its transmission equipment? The State of California should prohibit PG&E from making Public Safety Power Shutoffs. These shutoffs do not improve "public safety."

PG&E needs to be much more aggressive about utility right-of-way maintenance, but, in the meantime, yes, shutdown does improve safety.


24 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2019 at 1:50 pm

This is just P G & E making a very costly excuse for not doing what they should be doing. Has anyone added the potential cost of Silicon Valley losing power for up to a week? Small businesses will not be able to make up for losses due to being unable to operate their business and perhaps lose perishable stock.

Electric Vehicles, electric taking over from gas for heating, cooking, etc, are being encouraged. How does potential power outages affect these types of efforts.

If this is going to be ongoing every late Summer we are heading for big problems as a region. This is not the way to deal with the potential for fire. Urban areas suffering major prolonged power outages will lead to blight, to crime, and to unpleasant lifestyle. This cannot be allowed to continue.


34 people like this
Posted by BobH
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 8, 2019 at 2:11 pm

BobH is a registered user.

It's hard for me to not see this as PG&E (a convicted felon) demonstrating that they have not been investing in making their power lines safe. For example, not doing with tree trimming. Does seem like they have learned any lessons. It's much cheaper for them to turn off the power, than to spend money on making the power grid safer.

I also wonder if this is a not so subtle message regarding their bankruptcy proceedings.


12 people like this
Posted by Roger
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2019 at 3:11 pm

From a liability perspective, how could they choose to accept the risk? Our legal system of lawyers will make sure this kind of thing continues to happen.


25 people like this
Posted by GM
a resident of University South
on Oct 8, 2019 at 4:42 pm

This is one of the (in fact relatively minor in the grand scheme of things compared to much more serious issues) consequences of letting the free market rule everything.

First, left unmentioned (and unmentionable) in the aftermath of last year's fires was the question of why is it that we have allowed whole towns to be built consisting of nothing but wooden single-family houses with tall trees growing in between all of them, and that on the slope of a mountain? And there are hundreds of these all over the state. Whether PG&E was responsible for the spark that started it is completely irrelevant -- that sort of place is guaranteed to burn down to ground with 100% certainty at some point on a time scale of several decades.

The only way to avoid that is to make sure that no such idiotic living arrangements are allowed to exist in the first place.

[Portion removed.]

Second, why the hell are utilities private? It makes absolutely no sense -- it is a natural monopoly, there isn't really any innovation to be had in that domain (the usual excuse of the free market fundamentalists), or if there is, it is at the level of scaling up and integration (which is another argument for full nationalization), it is of vital infrastructural importance. Who in their right mind would think it is a good idea to leave something so important to the public in private hands?

Eventually the chickens do come home to roost.

Because this is only the first episode of many -- dry wind events are not going to stop happening just because we don't like being without power.


12 people like this
Posted by macbaldy
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2019 at 4:49 pm

PG&E is compelled to these extremes because it's being held responsible for fires caused by its equipment. Court orders and the new state laws have imposed this mandate. Gov. Newsom spoke about this predicament today, initially admitting he lack the expertise to second-guess PG&E's decisions. But then, he claims that PG&E's modernization of it's equipment will eventually eliminate the current hazard. Nonsense! There will never be a fully safe high-tension power line tranmission system across this state's vast, rugged, wooded terrain. Brand-new equipment in wilderness conditions is still vulnerable. Nature will prevail when it does what comes naturally. Only a revolutionary approach to human settlement within the wilderness interface will begin to make a difference. People have been presumptious in their choice of residential location, in partial to total denial of the hazards. PG&E didn't make those decisions. Outdated building codes have been grandfathered, instead of requiring upgrades as codes became more sophisticated. PG&E didn't make those decisions. This is a multifaceted predicament that cannot be addressed by a single-minded scapegoating of PG&E, especially since Cal Fire claims >3/4 of California's wildfire have causes not related to power utility equipment.


25 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2019 at 5:21 pm

While I have no love for PG&E and believe that they ignored maintaining the lines properly, I will say that in Palo Alto when the Utilities department comes to trim the trees away from the power lines, there are always residents who protest that the city should protect the trees and not trim them.

This is the same group of people that protest when they try to clear the concrete lined "creeks" and claim that the natural vegetation that builds up on the silt should not be touched, Then when there is a flood due to the creeks not being clear they complain that the Utilities department didn't do their job.

You can't have it both ways. If you want to have safe power then you are going to have to live with clear cut areas around the power lines.

/marc


16 people like this
Posted by Downtown parent
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 8, 2019 at 6:06 pm

From CNBC: "An attorney for a group of victims of the so-called Camp fire in Northern California ... alleged that there’s “pretty overwhelming” evidence that PG&E was at fault for the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history"

So now they are covering their ... at a price of our inconvenience, nothing else.


8 people like this
Posted by GM
a resident of University South
on Oct 8, 2019 at 6:18 pm

@Downtown parent

It is overtly simplistic to blame this all on PG&E. Could they be doing more to avoid causing fires? I actually don't know, one has to have access to information that I do not have to answer that question.

But I do know from first principles that it is awfully hard to maintain many thousands of kilometers of transmission lines, and that even if you take the best possible care of them, there is no guarantee that an accident will not happen. It is the nature of complex systems and of non-zero probability events. The latter tend to happen eventually, the former tend to break down in unpredictable ways.

So I think it is a big mistake to blame this all on PG&E and not to focus on the more fundamental issues (i.e. see my post above)


4 people like this
Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 8, 2019 at 6:45 pm

Nice power supply you had there. A shame something happened to it. But for just $$ we can protect it. Yes in large part CYA due to past malfeasance. But be on the lookout for proposition/legislation to fix and line pockets. No crisis to be wasted.


15 people like this
Posted by Skeptic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 8, 2019 at 6:46 pm

Skeptic is a registered user.

One main problem is that PG&E is legally liable for damage from fires caused by its transmission lines but it is not legally liable for the costs incurred by customers when their power is shut-off, most particularly commercial customers. If PG&E had to pay for the consequential costs of power shut-offs they wouldn't do them so quickly.


11 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 8, 2019 at 8:42 pm

PA Utilities needs to look into securing electricity transmission outside of PG&E. When a bankrupt company with no morals can shut off your power on whim, you have a problem.


22 people like this
Posted by rezi
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 8, 2019 at 9:15 pm

In this, California has descended to third world.


7 people like this
Posted by ABC
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 8, 2019 at 9:51 pm

This is basically PG&E trying to show its muscles to the state of California in exchange for the lawsuit. This is just a signal that they can basically shut off power to large parts of the state for days at a time on their whim. It's unthinkable to have power just gone for a week. Usually it takes a few feet of snow for days and even then utilities will get as many areas back up as possible. I get that they can't keep their website up, but can't they even send around a list of zip codes?

What will the state of California do? Will the state hold it accountable? Will there be hearings asking their execs what they're doing to make sure this doesn't happen again? It's just unbelievable.


3 people like this
Posted by Surreal
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 8, 2019 at 11:21 pm

PG&E is endangering citizens’ lives and livelihoods as a “precaution”. (Read “to protect its shareholders’ profits”.) How can this be acceptable/legal? Yet another disgusting example of “government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations”. California is self-destructing; this may be the last straw for those of us who are tired of funding a failed state.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 8, 2019 at 11:41 pm

^ "... to protect its shareholders’ profits"
Share price has dropped from $70 to $10 in past two years.
Dividends have disappeared entirely.


6 people like this
Posted by wgj
a resident of Portola Valley
on Oct 9, 2019 at 4:29 am

Well we’re all waiting for the great PG&E power shut off. Yes PG&E should not be the steward of our safety...they’re amateurs. Taking another point I’m so disappointed with our land trust...POST and Mid Peninsula Land Trust have done nothing to reduce the fuel loads. They skirt working with the local fire authorities. I would like to see more teeth in making the local land trusts cooperate with the local fire district than hide behind their veil of “ I’m beyond reproach.” Not only PG&E but our land trusts have to become accountable.


12 people like this
Posted by Paul mash
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 9, 2019 at 4:50 am

We are all paying the cost for unchecked environmental activist groups, those actions have repeatedly hindered the ability to improve the cleaning of vegetation near high power transmission lines.
Example of many articles published by such activist group.

Web Link

Environmental activist should be held responsible for the part the play in the mess we are in today.


1 person likes this
Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2019 at 8:42 am

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a website up that is reporting what they know from PG&E. Let's hope it is relatively accurate.

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by You've go to be kidding
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2019 at 8:42 am

You've go to be kidding is a registered user.

The news reports today say that up to 800,000 people could be subject to a power shut-off and that fire hydrants and pumps will not work in areas affected. Does it make sense to shut-off power to prevent a wildfire in the wilderness that results in a fire hazard in densely populated areas? The Governor and State Legislature should immediately pass a law that either a) makes PG&E liable for consequential damages caused by power shut-offs and/or b) prohibits "public safety" power shut-offs that do not consider the safety of ALL the residents affected, not just those in areas subject to wildfires. PG&E suffers only the relatively small costs of re-activating the transmission lines that are shut-off, but suffers no liability for the intentional loss of power to residents, businesses and public services. "Public Service Power Shut-offs" as described serve only a very small "public" living in remote areas. What about the rest of us who don't?


4 people like this
Posted by Just"DontBelieveIt
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2019 at 8:54 am

"Public Safety Power Shutdown"
What a nice 'cover your ass' name for an 'in your face, CA' action.
About as meaningful as "National Security" to hide anything politicians want to hide.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2019 at 8:55 am

The more I read/hear about this the more I think this is very political. PG&E is holding the region to ransom. They are supposedly giving the impression that they are acting responsibly while freely admitting that 95% of all fires are started by human activity. So, are their motives as honorable as they are portraying? If a fire does start with power cut off, they will be able to say "not our fault", but at the same time without power how will that affect fire management. In a disaster, roads without traffic lights, power affecting water being pumped to affected hydrants, etc. will hamper firefighting efforts to surrounding area if not effected area in the case of a large fire.

Take for example, the nonsense about whether some of our major tunnels remaining open. First they were closing, then they were open, now they are still saying they may close.

School districts closing, but staff have to be at schools. Businesses depending on power, retail, restaurants, etc. will have to close - but what businesses are not dependent on power? Airports, hospitals, etc. cannot run for 7 days without power from the grid no matter how many generators they have. Unless there is a fire, why does every inch of power line have to be checked before switching power back on? This is getting more and more suspicious to me. They are holding us to ransom

Yes, PG&E is definitely playing politics with the every day life of this region. And the clever part for them is that if we criticize their action, we are the bad guys for not caring about fires or fire prevention methods. We are pawns in their game and there isn't anything we can do?


5 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 9, 2019 at 9:12 am

mauricio is a registered user.

No one is less worthy of trust than corporations. The fact corporations rule the political system and have such immense power and domination over the public is a nightmarish fact of life. Corporations should not only be highly regulated and stripped of all political influence, we should seriously rethink the reason and justification for their very existence.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2019 at 9:15 am

There are quite a few lessons learned already during this exercise:

PG&E's informational website/distribution appears to be completely outdated. PG&E should learn to use cloud resources so that when information demand is high, consumers can access information. Just now, right before 9 AM during a critical pre-event period, basically the PG&E front door consumer information maps/etc are useless. PG&E does seem to be working with "news" companies, e.g. KRON4, sfgate/Chronicle, etc., but, PG&E's direct-to-consumer sites are useless.

City of Palo Alto Utilities website is mostly useless and strangely configured. Why, for example, is the power outage website configured by Zipcode? We know there are power distribution areas under there-- that is what consumers will care about. Also, Hills PG&E vs CPAU customers not clearly delineated, either on the PG&E outage map or the CPAU outage map. Every power distribution area is served either by one or the other, so, it should be clear. But, it isn't.

"The Power Grid" with major transmission lines, feeds intermediate systems, e.g., CPAU, which then feeds local distribution into city blocks, country roads, major industrial sites, whatever. The Grid is controlled and largely energized top-down. Surprisingly, after everything that has happened during the last five years, PG&E doesn't seem to very ready for this type of event, despite its now-yearly occurrence. As direct or indirect ratepayers, we, the public, should be willing to pay a few bucks to make the grid both more resilient and more flexible.

A question: are we willing to pay a little more to make the grid more safe, resilient, flexible and reliable? For years, certain consumer-oriented groups (e.g. TURN), as well as PG&E MBAs, acted in concert-- cutting costs is all that matters. Now that many people have died and PG&E has been forced into bankruptcy, can the majority agree that safety, resiliency, flexibility, reliability, all matter in the long run?


8 people like this
Posted by CeCe
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 9, 2019 at 9:16 am

Total scam, probably waiting for government bailout like the homeless. Definitely politics.


6 people like this
Posted by InDefenseOfStupidity
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2019 at 9:20 am

In PG&E's defense, the state has made it very clear that they will sue PG&E into oblivion for all damages from any fire, anywhere, with infinite liability.

Homeowner responsible to clear brush? No.
County responsible to cut trees back from escape roads? No. Actually illegal in many areas.
Towns responsible for implementing building codes for fire-proof construction? No.

We are a state that takes no responsibility for many layers of stupidity and incompetence, then sue, sue, sue when calamity strikes.

Now I believe PG&E is the worst company in the world. But let's face it, California has made it impossible to keep the lights on. Enjoy the dark everyone.


14 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2019 at 9:26 am

California gets more third-world with every passing year. Potholes in the roads, vagrants on the street, lawlessness, gridlock, and now rolling blackouts. When will people get fed up enough to throw the politicos out on their asses?


2 people like this
Posted by Great and Unmatched Wisdom
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 9, 2019 at 9:38 am

When will people get fed up enough to throw the politicos (who cut taxes for the rich, meaning less infrastructure and services for the rest of us) out on their asses?

Happy to help you finish the statement.


12 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 9, 2019 at 9:50 am

mauricio is a registered user.

If every single politician who suggested cutting taxes on the rich and corporations suffered the abrupt end of his/her political career, we wouldn't be facing this nonsense of a utility company cutting off the electrical power to a million people. Cutting taxes for the wealthy is tantamount to a death sentence for others, the deterioration of the very fabric of society through deteriorating infrastructure, schools, public health services, basic public safety services, etc.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2019 at 10:27 am

From the latest PAW article, it will only be the PA foothills affected, or those West of 280. Why was this part omitted from earlier warnings.

How has the City prepared for this. Is there any type of signage on Page Mill to prevent non-residents from using the road for recreation use? Have bikes been prohibited from Page Mill. Has Foothills Park been closed for the day to prevent unnecessary traffic on Page Mill?

Of course the answer to this is probably no.

So we have not been given accurate information from the City and the City has done nothing to alleviate any potential problems or risks?

Pathetic City management all round.


4 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 9, 2019 at 12:42 pm

Speaking of Page Mill, I exited 280 yesterday mid-morning (Tuesday) onto Page Mill and encountered near standstill traffic jam as I drove (very slowly) down the hill. Nearing El Camino Real (finally), I saw one lane removed for some apparently minor road work! NO warning signs up the hill, so hundreds caught by surprise. It was terrible at an hour traffic should have been moving smoothly. I assumed a major, big accident had occurred, blocking Page Mill (well above Peter Coutts down just past Hanover). I turned off onto Hanover, thankfully.
Why can’t we have better notice given to warn the public. Many would have turned onto Foothill Expy.
The PG&E website is much more important and should be constantly updated.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 9, 2019 at 12:45 pm

Upon crawling to Hanover intersection, one could barely see some sort of “crew working” sign to the right side of Page Mill where the lane was taken away. No notice up the hill on the expressway, where it would have been helpful.


Like this comment
Posted by invisible hand of the free market
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 9, 2019 at 12:52 pm

> Why can’t we have better notice given to warn the public.

Waze. Google. How many other up-to-the-moment mapping apps are there? Seriously, would you trust "work zone" signs anyway?

But sure, let's raise taxes to provide the public better communication tools about work our government does for us.


2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 9, 2019 at 3:06 pm

Driving NB on 280 like 11AM on a Tuesday and you’re supposed to first check traffic apps on my cell just to get off at Page Mill?
I was returning to PA, where I reside, and use apps in appropriate situations before setting out. Sorry I didn’t this time. Didn’t realize necessary to do when on any odd errand. No, I am not in a Tesla or vehicle with map/traffic on a dashboard screen, must refer to a cellphone. Many of us “just” have cells, though I have a screen with limited info, backup camera -


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 9, 2019 at 4:41 pm

Cut taxes for the rich? In California?
Half the state's income tax is paid by the 1 percent.
Sacramento is collecting more money than ever in history.


1 person likes this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 10, 2019 at 9:32 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@ mauricio - Hey what state do you live in, I think I might want to move there. I live in California which has the highest taxes of any state in the country, and has raised taxes on the people who actually work, not cut them. Top rate is now 13.3%.

But at least we get a lot of value from our well run state goverment, right? Great public transit, clean streets, housing for the homeless, awesome schools, and cheap higher education for everyone.


8 people like this
Posted by Go for it John!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 10, 2019 at 9:40 am

Find a place that makes you happy. Not every place is for every one.
I'm sorry if you're financially stuck here though, maybe a second job could assist if that was the case....save up a few uber dollars to foot the bill of the move?
Anyway, best of luck on your quest. Only a fool would stay where they do not like things.


12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2019 at 9:47 am

Posted by john_alderman, a resident of Crescent Park

>> @ mauricio - Hey what state do you live in, I think I might want to move there. I live in California which has the highest taxes of any state in the country, and has raised taxes on the people who actually work, not cut them. Top rate is now 13.3%.

The tax burden is very inequitably distributed. People who actually work hard and make a lot of money via wages/salaries, pay a much higher rate than people who inherit or who are able to utilize various tax-advantaged real estate investment strategies. In California, Prop 13 has been an ever-growing goldmine for the very wealthy, and the Federal tax code is now very friendly towards inherited wealth.

Cynically speaking, if you want to pay less in taxes, don't work harder or smarter. Find a craftier tax lawyer. Or find richer parents to inherit from-- and make sure that -they- have a good tax lawyer and CPA.


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