Mayor Wolosin reports on community meeting on power outages

by Linda Hubbard on March 17, 2023

Menlo Park Mayor Jen Wolosin sent out an email last night (March 16) following the community meeting held in East Palo Alto regarding the recent power outages.  Here is what she wrote:

“About an hour or so ago, a community meeting about the power outages, featuring a PG&E representative, wrapped up in East Palo Alto. A special thank you to East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier, Assemblymember Diane Papan, Senator Josh Becker, Supervisor Warren Slocum and the San Mateo County Department of Emergency Management, for hosting the event.

“At the meeting, PG&E listened to feedback from residents and elected officials, about the impacts felt during the two recent extended outages. Since all, or at least most of you know what it was like during the outages this past month, you can probably figure out the types of comments that were made (ineffective/lack of communication, unclear prioritization criteria, overall frustration, etc.).

“In addition to listening, PG&E also shared the following information (please note that this is based on my notes, and if there are any inaccuracies, they are unintentional):

  • The recent outages have been the worst PG&E have experienced since 1995, with San Mateo County being hit the hardest.
  • 1/6th of the total PG&E crew has been in San Mateo County to restore power.
  • Utility crews from other agencies, operating under joint service agreements, have been called in to help.
  • Prioritization criteria:
    1. The largest outages, impacting the most customers
    2. Those experiencing outages for the longest durations
    3. Those locations housing critical facilities (hospitals, schools, etc.)
  • While the above criteria guides the decision making, the PG&E rep also stated that there are other factors (for example if one outage can be fixed quickly vs. another) that also are considered. The rep also said that the prioritization is more of an art than a science.
  • Assessments. In a major event PG&E crews are broken into 1-2 person teams. One of those teams must visit the site of an outage before any restoration activity can take place. Due to the widespread nature of the storms, and the demand for crew being much larger than the available crew, it has taken up to 24 hours before an initial assessment can be made.
  • In a normal outage (one utility pole goes down), power can often times be rerouted to an alternate power line, so that power is only temporarily down. In the case of the recent storms, the alternate power lines also went down and so typical back up protocol was unable to be implemented.
  • Communication. At the end of the meeting the PG&E representative issued a formal apology to residents on behalf of PG&E. The communication did not live up to expectations and was not ok. While they plan to do better, here is what they shared:
    – As mentioned above, it can take up to 24 hours in a major event to even make an assessment. Thus, the delay in providing an estimation.
    The ongoing circumstances of the first storm (rain, rain and more rain), made it difficult to make repairs, thus pushing out and changing restoration times.
    – There is a difference between the “global restoration time” (when everyone in a service area gets their power back) and an individual’s power restoration time. It wasn’t completely clear to me if they thought it was better to let people know the worst case scenario about the whole area (and have them be “pleasantly” surprised) or to give them a more hopeful estimate. They have definitely heard from residents and elected leaders (myself included) that they must provide information to let people make plans.

“Please know that I am eager to see what PG&E does with all of the feedback it received, to improve its service and do better overall. Words and information are great, but if it’s not supported by action, it’s meaningless. I will do my part to serve as a partner with PG&E, and to do what we can, on the City’s side, to become a more resilient community.

Another storm is coming early next week. Please continue to monitor weather conditions.”

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