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Thread: OT: Are pre-emptive power outages normal?

  1. #11
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    I hadn't read that it was deemed a customer owned pole that caused the Camp fire, very interesting. But as mentioned previously speculation was it was lack of maintenance around lines (vegetation falling on lines). Dry conditions and high winds with suspect clearance to combustibles around high voltage lines is a recipe for fire which apparently they are now taking more seriously and would likely be the reason for the preemptive outage. This is fairly reasonable. Here in Maine they do pretty good work trimming the lines but every winter there are outages and downed lines during windy/icy/both storms. You just can't keep up with that maintenance. We just don't have dry conditions at the same time, so fire isn't really a concern.

  2. #12
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    "A downed pole" is not one thing that stamps the "owner" as having responsibility.... WHY was it "downed"?

    Did it just fall over? That is a liability issue. Was it hit by a vehicle? That would not be the owner's liability.

    I expect they would be sued for any cause, but there are causes that would not be their negligence. (Although I am sure that the argument would be that the pole needed protection, the owners "knew or should have known" that cars might knock it over....... etc, etc) There may even be ways that PG&E could be at fault even though the pole was not theirs.
    1601

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  3. #13
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    So if a hurricane comes through, blows down pole and starts a fire; it is the power companies fault? How is that any different than if some drunk knocks over a pole with his car and starts a fire? Both of those scenarios could snap a new pole. Now if the company failed to cut back the brush and branches, and a branch falls on a line or a wire sways into a tree during high winds and starts a fire I could see some liability there. Customers complain when the utility cuts back, of course. However, if you are thinking of moving into a community in Tinderbox Canyon, CA and find you can't buy fire insurance maybe you should think about your choice.

    Tom

  4. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by J Tiers View Post
    The power companies are a state (as in California or Iowa, etc) authorized monopoly, or if there are multiple companies, they all fall under state commission supervision. As such, they operate under the rules established for their operation. So they are not totally uncontrolled.

    This depends on the state Public Utilities Commission, as well as State law. Some are more loose , others rather tightly controlled. California has been a bit of a mess ever since the days of Enron. Some areas have had to pay very high rates due to agreements made back then, and there seem to be other problems as well.

    The last thing any government wants to do is get involved in being a power company. And it probably would be an even bigger mess. Government is satisfied with supervision, such as it is. It's a balance, the company has a right to make a profit, but not too big a profit. In most areas, rates are one of the things supervised.
    In here they privatized practically state-owned distribution network companies couple of years ago.
    Then they act surprised when transfer fees go up and profits disappears to international tax heavens.
    Privatized public roads are similarly great idea..

    (you can buy your electricity from dozens of generating companies but transfer fees you pay for local distribution network company that has always natural/local monopoly)

  5. #15
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    I've been in touch with an electrical lineman who has worked on PG&E transmission lines. He says they are very poorly maintained; he is of the opinion that the company skimps on repairs and upkeep in order to maximize profits. His stories made a believer out of me.
    So many projects. So little time.

  6. #16
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    A de-energized pole that is down may not be capable of starting a fire, but will that problem be detected and repaired before power is restored to the grid? If power is restored at a time when no one is there, then the fire will likely start anyway. It seems that this strategy may not have prevented that fire.

    It seems to me that what is needed is more and better observation. And regular preventive maintenance. These would be the on the parts of both the utility company and of any private owners of power lines.



    Quote Originally Posted by danlb View Post
    Disclaimer: I worked for PG&E in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

    The odd thing is that it's no longer a monopoly. They aren't the only ones to generate power anymore. They sold around 1/2 of their generating plants. They were required by law to buy power from the companies who bought the assets on a spot (one day at a time) market.

    The gaming of the system in 1999-2000 was being done by the companies who bought the power plants. They planned maintenance for multiple power sources at the same time, creating a shortage. They tied up transmission lines with faked transactions. They cost PG&E around 40 BILLION dollars. The wiki page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Califo...tricity_crisis appears to match what I heard at the time.

    Nickle-city-fab noted that PG&E caused the fires last time. It was just last month that it came out that a downed pole (I think) at a customer site (a winery???) caused the fire. The downed pole was owned and maintained by the customer. In short, PG&E maintenance was not the cause of the fire.

    I've seen rolling blackouts and can understand that idea; there is not enough power to satisfy demand. This is different because it's preemptive outage based on the idea that a de-energized power pole starts no fires. I've never heard of such a thing before.

    Dan
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  7. #17
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    PG&E is saying that power may be out for an extended period because they have to check for damage from winds before re-energizing each sector. So it sounds like they are doing what they should to avoid more fires.

    The other key point there is that high winds cause fires to spread quickly. If the fire is started by a downed line by a 50 MPH wind, the fire may spread to become a major fire very quickly. That same fire started when the wind has died down may be more quickly controlled.

    Dan
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  8. #18
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    The key point is power lines that can't withstand 50mph winds. It's hard to discuss this topic without sounding political. Nothing against you personally but I hope the rest of us don't have to subsidize the poor design and maintenance or your power company.

  9. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by CCWKen View Post
    The key point is power lines that can't withstand 50mph winds. It's hard to discuss this topic without sounding political. Nothing against you personally but I hope the rest of us don't have to subsidize the poor design and maintenance or your power company.
    Everyone is connected together, or at least large areas are, so one affects all.

    That said, IIRC the Governor in Mass had the other gas companies fixing the stuff that the one could not, or was not allowed to due to bad workmanship etc. I think they were allowed to bill the bad co for their time, do not recall.

    That after all those buildings burned due to gas problems.
    1601

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  10. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by CCWKen View Post
    The key point is power lines that can't withstand 50mph winds. It's hard to discuss this topic without sounding political. Nothing against you personally but I hope the rest of us don't have to subsidize the poor design and maintenance or your power company.
    Wood poles and overhead lines is not a bad design, per se. But that design is not always right for the location. I believe it is in Daytona Beach, I saw concrete poles along the beach road. Baltimore Md has required underground lines for new subdivisions since 1964. I think there are locations in Northern VA that are trying to get the power company to underground the lines because there are lots of old trees in the neighborhoods that cause power outages during storms. Of course, the residents think the power company can just move them underground for free and without ripping the streets up. If fire prone areas in CA were to require underground cables, at least fires from down lines would be minimized but the consumers will ultimately pay for it in higher rates. Insulated cables underground cost several times more per mile that bare overhead lines but if you choose to build your house in a canyon that catches fire every few years it might be worth it.

    Tom

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