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Recent North County power outages caused by 'overreacting' anti-fire sensor, PG&E says 

A recent spree of power outages in North San Luis Obispo County were caused by an "overreacting" new wildfire prevention feature that automatically shuts off power when a foreign object is detected in transmission lines, according to PG&E.

click to enlarge OUTAGES PG&E offered an explanation for its recent spree of North County power outages on Sept. 14. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • OUTAGES PG&E offered an explanation for its recent spree of North County power outages on Sept. 14.

A PG&E spokesperson addressed the unplanned outages at a Sept. 14 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting. He explained that the new "fast trip" feature is causing the widespread outages, often unnecessarily.

"These fast trip settings have a sensitivity, and what we're finding is they're overreacting," PG&E's Eric Daniels told county supervisors. "We're trying to hone that in."

The fast trip feature is installed across high-risk wildfires areas, Daniels said. In North County, he named Highway 58, Highway 46, and Highway 41, as stretches where it's in place and where the recent outages originated. Even if the trigger is in a specific location, the automatic shutoffs impact hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of surrounding customers.

"[Those areas are] where we're finding these happening in the last week or so very repeatedly," Daniels said. "These are unplanned outages."

Restoring power can take some time, Daniels said. Field crews need to "inspect the entire circuit" before sending energy back to the grid. Those inspections can't take place in the dark, and helicopter inspections can only take place in good weather.

"Crews will restore customers in stages as individual portions of the circuit are deemed safe and ready to re-energize," he said. "This process takes time."

While Daniels said PG&E is working to adjust the sensitivity of the fast trip to avoid more unneccesary outages, the new safety measure in general is important to reducing equipment-sparked wildfires.

"Given the extreme drought condition in our state, we're taking additional steps," Daniels said. "These operations are a safety measure, where PG&E is adjusting the way the grid is managed."

The outages left thousands of North County residents and businesses frustrated as they contended with 90-plus degree heat without electricity for hours at a time. Local mother Bridget Miles wrote in a recent comment on Facebook that during one outage, her food and her breast milk for her 4-month-old baby went bad.

"We pay for electricity, and I understand outages happen, but this is way worse than it's ever been," Miles said. Δ

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