Richmond mayor briefed by PG&E on cause of power outages

Richmond mayor briefed by PG&E on cause of power outages
PG&E crew working on power lines amid widespread local outages on Sunday. (Photo by Mike Kinney)

Widespread outages that cut power to thousands of customers in San Pablo, Richmond and El Cerrito over the weekend were weather related, a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. official told Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. But Richmond officials are looking for more answers on how the utility plans to prevent the outages in the future.

At one point Sunday, 125 outages were reported on 52 circuits impacting 11,831 local customers. Widespread outages also occurred the previous weekend, resulting in early dismissal for several local schools.

In his e-forum newsletter on Sunday, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said he was briefed on the outages by PG&E spokesperson Nkiruka Ohaegbu. According to PG&E, particulate matter on lines and transformers, exacerbated by wildfires, is causing shorts when interacting with unseasonal mist, fog and rain, the mayor said.

PG&E says it can prevent the shorts by washing down the lines and transformers at poles, but that process is more difficult in Richmond than other cities.

“According to Ohaegbu, cities typically issue a citywide administrative permit to wash down all poles, whereas Richmond requires an individual permit for each pole, slowing down the process,” Mayor Butt said. However, the mayor later added he was informed that Richmond granted a citywide pole washing permit last week, leading to the washing of poles on Thursday and Friday.

In the wake of the latest outages over the weekend, Mayor Butt questioned whether PG&E could have been doing more to prevent them.

“I have received a number of inquiries, some suggesting that Richmond’s infrastructure is old and vulnerable and that PG&E is not maintaining it,” Mayor Butt said. “Ohaegbu has assured me this is not the case.”

The city may seek to have PG&E and the California Public Utilities Commission each make a presentation in City Council Chambers in November “to report their plans for repairing their infrastructure in Richmond to avoid frequent outages that have often lasted as long as 30+ hours,” according to an agenda item for Tuesday’s Council meeting.