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Santa Cruz County asks PG&E for more transparency after surge of recent EPSS outages

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, Calif. (KION-TV)- Santa Cruz County released a statement Tuesday urging PG&E to fine-tune their Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings program after a series of recent outages.

The County claims that "PG&E has publicly stated that there have been 47 total EPSS outages since last year, including 18 so far in 2022. The County has sought information directly from PG&E on the frequency and cause of these outages. Data provided to the County by PG&E shows there were 34 outages in the month of June alone, averaging more than one per day."

The largest outage affected 6,400 people, and the longest lasted 16 hours. The County said their concerns stem from the lack of information PG&E has given them on what causes these outages.

PG&E says a majority of these outages were caused by either vegetation/ trees contacting powerlines (18) and seven were caused by birds flying into power equipment.

"18 was the number of 2022 outages on EPSS-enabled circuits in Santa Cruz County that were caused by vegetation or trees coming into contact with powerlines, and not the total number of EPSS outages this year," said a PG&E spokesperson.

KION Spoke with a few customers over the EPSS outages.

John Thorington, who lives in Laurel, said these outages are something he has gotten used to. He has lived in Santa Cruz County for 50 years.

"I noticed it about 12:30 pm, and it lasted until about 6 pm," said Thorington. "But it really wasn't a problem. I've had this happen on occasion. They sent me an email and what I was able to figure from the email is that a stick or something had hit a line."

While the power going out is an inconvenience, Thorington understands crews need to check the lines.

"Having been up here as long as I have, I always have a generator and gas ready. I expect a few every year because of where I live. I live in a forest."

Some of these outages occurred when weather conditions were cool, with low wind, or overcast with high humidity. These are not conditions that are not conducive to an increase in fire danger, alleges the County.

Eda Borasi, who lives in Scotts Valley said it's frustrating and miserable to go home and not have any electricity.

The County asks PG&E to tell them more about weather conditions during EPSS outages.

"We urge PG&E to continue fine-tuning its EPSS system to reduce the impacts of these outages on our residents. Extended outages impact all sectors of our economy, from stores and restaurants to childcare centers, leading to lost economic activity and lost wages for staff at those establishments. Our remote work communities are also impacted by loss of internet service, thus increasing the climate impacts of vehicle miles traveled to access stable, consistent internet for work."

The County ended by asking PG&E to look for improved solutions to further mitigate the fire threat in the County. One solution provided was a significant expansion of PG&E's program of undergrounding critical circuits.

KION reached out to PG&E about these concerns and they said they are not available to speak until next week.

"PG&E knows that power disruptions represent a hardship for our customers. For our customers in the Santa Cruz Mountains, we will be hosting a webinar next week to talk about the Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings, how they’re helping to reduce ignitions and what we’re doing to lessen the number of outages on this circuit. We’ll share details shortly."

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Ricardo Tovar

Assignment/ Web Manager for KION News Channel 5/46 and Telemundo 23

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