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Electrifying our homes - more than just cost.

Original post made by Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Dec 30, 2019

From an insert in this month's Utilities bill is a flyer with suggestions on how to electrify our homes.

In the past 12 months, we have had electricity cut to our home at least twice. We have never had gas cut to our home. The excuses given whenever an outage occurs, or causes, range from squirrels, seagulls, geese, dangling branches when it is not raining or windy and mylar balloons.

If we had a meal cooking it would spoil although some could continue cooking when the power is returned. If we had been baking when the power went out, half cooked breads or cakes have to be thrown out. If it happens overnight when our EVs are charging, they do not charge and we are unable to go where we need to go the next day. If the outage ends without a rebooting of the power supply, charges do not continue until system is rebooted. Refrigerated food spoils in our grocery stores very quickly without power and frozen food spoils soon after. Hot food in hot food bars in grocery stores and restaurants spoils very quickly. Restaurants are hit with food losses.

Our electricity went out for many hours one day when a pylon in EPA was hit by a plane. We still receive Citywide power from that same source. We have home businesses, places of learning and medical/hygiene offices that need power to operate. Then of course our traffic is bad enough and without traffic lights at commute times traffic will be seriously impacted all through town.

So the goal for us to become all electric should include upgrades and assurances that our power supply is more reliable. We cannot have the weather, wildlife and such things as balloons putting large areas of town out for several hours. The cost to business is huge. The cost to the city to repair an outage is minor to all the waste that has to be thrown out and the inability of a business to function. A restaurant will not make up for lost business at the dinner or lunch hour. A student doing an SAT/ACT that loses power will suffer. A patient half way through the drilling for a dental filling will remain uncomfortable. A gym cannot function without light, fans and locker rooms. The list goes on.

Palo Alto must improve its power supply.

Comments (2)

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 31, 2019 at 12:43 pm

I agree somewhat. Let's say 73.6%. I'm posting because I don't accept conflating two very different kinds of outages into one, and, I think utility customers have to remain aware of the distinction.

Palo Alto Utilities does have a single feed from "the grid", as you observe, from near the airport to the substation on west bayshore by Greer Park. Everybody knows that because of the Feb 2010 plane crash. IMHO, there should be a second (redundant) feed from a different grid path. It wouldn't be cheap to do that, BTW. A total CPAU power outage is one thing, but, it has been extremely rare.

By far the most frequent power outages are local to your block, however. Squirrels, mylar balloons, tree branches, etc. Significant improvement in local outages should result if utilities are ever undergrounded, as they were supposed to be, although that isn't perfect either, since underground utilities are vulnerable to flooding in various ways.

Life-and-safety-essential medical equipment must always have battery backup. Any kind of power needs backup in that case. It has always been that way. Always. Never depend on supplied power for life essential equipment.

As for the food etc issues, speaking for myself, I can live off cold food for a long time. But, if hot meals are really that significant to you, how about a nice, protected outdoor patio with a propane grill?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 31, 2019 at 7:04 pm

I do agree that I have covered two different aspects about our power supply.

What does annoy me is that we get more power outages than we should. When the Utilities tries to persuade us to change to electricity they should at least be providing us with a service that is reliable. Yes, hot food is important particularly during the winter, during the holidays, during times when our lives are busy enough that a half cooked meal is more than a nuisance but affords alternate dinner plans. This is particularly true when kids are trying to do homework between various activities and a meal has already been planned and started. A half cooked frozen lasagna, for example, cannot easily be transferred to a grill outside and unless we have the necessary burgers and buns, or salad and cold food ingredients, a quick change of menu is not always the best remedy for a sudden power outage, particularly when traffic lights are out and who knows where the nearest place to go for dinner may be?

Power outages are a nuisance, they do interrupt the normality of our lives. They do provide wastage and inconvenience to our everyday lives. It seems to me that every couple of months, an area of town loses power for silly reasons, and usually it is much more than just a block. And yes, undergrounding our utilities would help, but the City has so far taken over 50 years to do this to part of our city.

The point of the discussion is to see just how the message the city is sending us, the residents. We have an unreliable service. They are doing nothing to make it more reliable.

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