Letter: What can be done about power outages in Montara?

Letter to the editor

Posted by on Wed, January 3, 2007

Once again, two people exhaled at the same time, and the power went out again on the dark side of Montara.  For those of you outside the immediate area, the dark side of Montara is anything east of Birch Street, extending almost as far as Etheldore Street in Moss Beach.  My wife has lived here for over 30 years, and she says its always been like this.  The power goes out between 4 and 12 times every season, often for no discernable reason.  We can look across the lots in front of us, and one block to the east on Birch Street, the power is ALWAYS on when ours is out.

So far, it’s been out four times this season, including about 22 out of 26 hours from 6:15PM on Tuesday, December 26 to 10:00 PM December 27.  Tonight, January 3, it went out for 45 minutes, with no sign of rain or wind anywhere around this home.

I’d like to know more about what the problem is.  Is it always the same place, or are there multiple places around the wooded areas where branches keep knocking the trees down?

I read other stories from earlier in the year about hearings being held, and nothing being done, as usual.  I wrote a letter to the PUC after the Dec 26-27 fiasco, but what else can we do?

Is there anyone in the community with the energy to take this on?  I’ve been working on the stormwater drainage problem, and that’s as much as I can or want to take on.

Is there enough community will to raise enough hell to get somebody’s attention?  Or do we each head to Home Depot, each get a generator, and each add our little bit to global warming?

Stephen Lowens


Comment 1
Thu, January 4, 2007 12:00am
Brian
All my comments

Stephen,

You are not alone - and I don’t know what is to be done other than to commiserate with one another. We seem to keep electing the same set of do-nothings over and over again, so I guess we have no one to blame but ourselves.

There are neighborhoods in El Granada and I suspect up and down the Coastside that have the same issue. I grew up in Houston where there was a *lot* of wind and rain and it basically took almost a hurricane to cause an outage. Thus, I find it laughable how often the power blips around here. The grid is yet another example of the exceedingly poor infrastructure and services we have on the Coast. My block is also frequently without power when everyone around us is not. The grid in El Granada in particular is a spaghetti nightmare—so a tree falling in one place may affect seemingly unrelated houses blocks away but nothing in the immediate vicinity.

Along with road and other infrastructure improvements, we should be investing in moving these lines underground.

Would you like to guess how much I believe either of those is ever going to happen?

Brian Dantes
El Granada

Stephen,
My husband and I moved here September 2005 and are now settling into the reality of these power outtages.  Although, I do feel like there have been more this year than last?  What’s most frustrating to us is what we discovered last night.  Once the power went out, my husband and I decided to jump in the car and drive around in search of the PG&E truck (this seems to be the only reliable way to appease our questions as to how long it’ll take to restore power, as we all know the automated announcement at PG&E cannot be trusted).  We found him on Sunshine Drive in Moss Beach, shining his flashlight up at, and I’m not joking, a two-foot branch that had fallen off a nearby tree onto the power line.

Is it honestly possible for a 2 foot branch to cause an outtage?!!  If so, then we’re all in trouble as winds are expected to pick up again today.

I’m not an engineer but isn’t there a way to connect our grid with the neighboring grids to give us limited power during the outtages?  At least to run our well pumps.

Brian, why do you think there’s any connection between power and perceived deficiencies in other infrastructure?  Which elected “do nothings” do you think have anything to do with our local power reliability problems?  I, for one, would certainly fix the power if I could.  We don’t have to have third-world power in order to keep our rural ambiance.

Our problems are specifically because there are no elected officials responsible.  While the CPUC could probably do something, they’re not elected, and I’m sure they don’t care.  Power is a monopoly run by a private company concerned only about their bottom line.

A few years ago I suggested forming a MUD (Municipal Utilities District) for the Coastside.  The silence was deafening.

BTW, where in El Granada are you located?


Anita—as I’ve mentioned on the Midcoast-L mailing list, I am convinced that the problem is the way that the power system is set up:  if it detects a short, it drops power for a second and brings it back up to see if the short has cleared.  It does this 3 times and then leaves the power off.  A tree branch waving in the breeze could cause the power to go off due to 3 momentary shorts, but when the PG&E crew comes around, they won’t find any problem other than the power is off and they just reset the circuit.  Without solving the underlying problem, this is going to keep happening forever.  And due to the byzantine wiring that Brian mentions, the outage may not be where the underlying problem is.  Consider this:  telephone and cable TV/Internet are on the same poles (below the power).  <u>Why is only the power affected by this constantly recurring problem?</u>


I am not budging from my position that undergrounding the utilities is the only reasonable solution.

Comment 4
Thu, January 4, 2007 2:59pm
ljm
All my comments

I tend to agree on the underground wiring, Leonard. Last night the electricity went out on our street in El Granada for about 30 seconds. It was the same situation others described: Very light rain, no wind, no sounds of cars crashing into power poles.  When I called PG&E to report it the (very pleasant) service rep told me that an animal running across the line can cause this kind of temporary outage. Hmm.

Lisa Maulhardt
El Granada

Well, no amount of tree trimming is going to keep animals off the lines.  If you believe that story at all.  Repeat after me:  Undergrounding.  (I’ve heard that rats can run down overhead wires into your house if the entry isn’t properly sealed.)

Years ago when Stanford had a long outage affecting Forsythe Hall (where the mainframes and many other servers are), the power people blamed it on a squirrel getting into the system.  Someone remarked that the power guys “keep a supply of freeze-dried squirrels for when they can’t explain an outage.”

BTW, I did get a t-shirt:  a picture of squirrel with the legend “I survived the Stanford power outage.”  At least my boss had a sense of humor about it.

Anita,

Can’t help much with our basic problem, but I can save you from driving around the community to talk to the guy in the truck every time.  PG&E has a phone number to report and to get info on outages.  They usually have a 2 hour window in which they predict the power coming back on.  The number is 800-743-5002.

I’ll report back when I get a reply to my official complaint to the PUC.

Steve Lowens
Montara

Note to all those complaining about the (rare) power interruptions on the Coastside: this a small price to pay for the priviledge of living in a unique rural coastal area that is in close proximity to two major urban centers.

Want more power reliability? Then move to one of those urban centers. It never ceases to amaze me how some people think they can have everything.

Kevin,
I honestly hope you’re joking.  Four times (each time for longer than a few hours) in 1 month is not “rare” - it’s a problem.

Comment 9
Fri, January 5, 2007 5:48pm
Brian
All my comments

Kevin Lansing wrote:
> Note to all those complaining about the (rare)
> power interruptions on the Coastside: this a small
> price to pay for the priviledge of living in a
> unique rural coastal area that is in close
> proximity to two major urban centers.
>
> Want more power reliability? Then move to one of
> those urban centers. It never ceases to amaze me
> how some people think they can have everything.

And it never ceases to amaze *me* how public officials in this area like yourself are constantly equating improving the quality of services here with death, doom and destruction.

And I echo Ms. Krpata’s comments—the power outages are frequent and annoying. There is no reason that we should have to abide sub-standard electrical grids simply because we have a nice view. Give me a break.

Brian Dantes
El Granada

Kevin, you seem to be in the minority here.  Notice that Brian Dantes and I are largely in agreement on this issue!  Get with the program.  Maybe <u>you</u> don’t have power problems where <u>you</u> live in Half Moon Bay, but in the unincorporated areas just to the north of you it’s a major problem.

And by the way, moving to “one of those urban centers” isn’t the answer.  During the severe weather in winter 1995/1996 (I think it was), my supervisor who lived in a regular suburban area in Mountain View was without power for 4 days straight.  I really take issue with any attempt to blame power problems on living on the Coastside.

Oh, and by the way, anyone who thinks that power outages are no big deal should try not using any water at all until the power is back on.  Then tell me if you still think it’s not a problem.  Well pumps require power.

Years before moving to the Bay Area I remember reading a comment from someone who bought a VCR-Plus (remember those?) because it didn’t lose its programming every time the power went out.  He mentioned that he lived in PG&E territory and it was a big problem.

Perhaps my comments were a bit over-reaching. Nevertheless, I think there is a tendency of some to judge the rural Coastside according to urban infrastructure standards that can never be met without turning the Coastside into the very same (urban) place that many of us moved here to avoid.

In any case, the issue should obviously be taken up with the super-pro-development County Board of Supervisors:

https://coastsider.com/index.php/site/news/921/

The Supervisors have no problem handing out gifts to their developer/realtor friends, but always seem neglect the concerns of ordinary Coastside residents. Flooding in Montara is another perfect example:

https://coastsider.com/index.php/site/news/948/

Steve, you must either be one of the lucky few who can get cell phone reception in Montara, or have one o’ them old-fangled non-electric phones.  :-)  When my power goes down, I’ve got NOTHING—no power to my phones, no power to my modem (even if I had cable data).  I fumble for my keys, get in my car, and head out of town so I can call PG&E….  ~jill on Franklin

Jill,

Yes, I am one of those people who have the “Old fashioned” phones that don’t plug into the power grid.  I think every home should have one - and phones are cheap enough that you can have one-or-more portable phones too.  Actually, I still have a couple phones that have those old-fashioned dial things!

No, we don’t get cell phone service where I live.  And I actually consider that a benefit of living here.

And, Kevin, thanks for pointing to the flooding article.  That’s my main project right now, and we have actually been promised three projects to address three critical flooding areas in Moss Beach and Montara. I continue to follow this problem with zeal.

I have heard that it’s not possible to install underground lines on the coastside, due to the high water table.  Can anyone verify this?  I’m certainly not an expert on these matters.

Raina Schally
El Granada

I know that Ocean Colony and Frenchmen’s Creek have always had underground utilities. Not many problems.

John L.

For a few years now, all new houses in the unincorporated Midcoast have been required to have underground utilities.  In the COSC zoning district (primarily the Burnham Strip in El Granada), underground utilities have always been required, and that area probably has one of the highest water tables in the area.

When installed properly, underground utilities are in sealed conduits, so water should be a non-issue.  My next-door neighbor has underground utilities, and this area floods during sustained heavy rain.  (That house was built in 1984.  I’ve heard that in the 82/83 El Nino, there was 4 feet of water where the street is now.)

The Clipper Ridge (“Princeton by the Sea”) subdivision has underground utilities.  Supposedly, in 82/83 the only way in and out of there was via canoes and rowboats.

The water table issue sounds like a red herring to me, likely started by someone who doesn’t want to spend money on undergrounding.  See FUD.

Unless you live in an all-new development having underground utilities to every new house doesn’t help much. Our house is hooked up to underground utilities. Unfortunately, they come underground from the pole across the street that was here before my house was built. So I don’t have to worry about a tree falling on the wires to my house, just the wires that run to the pole across the street from my house.

If you have talked to PG&E about putting your utilities underground, the cost runs into the tens of thousands of dollars. This is usually a major civic improvement that many municipalities don’t have the resources to undertake.

So my response is to buy candles, stock up on batteries, and just keep repeating my mantra: Montara is Paradise, Montara is Paradise, Montara…..

Don Graham
Montara