A drone’s-eye view of Cambria’s pine forest
As area homeowners hustle to get backup emergency power sources in place before PG&E declares a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) that affects San Luis Obispo County, various agencies also are verifying their readiness in case the lights go out.
That was the case at a recent Cambria Community Services District meeting when directors learned July 18 the water department hadn’t been nearly as well protected.
The only water department generator was on San Simeon well 2, and recent testing showed that aging generator’s output was at 25% capacity, meaning it failed to produce enough power to run the well’s pump, according to a “Backup Power Status Summary” chart exhibited at the meeting by General Manager John Weigold and Jim Green (chief plant operator for the Sustainable Water Facility).
Weigold estimated the generator was 30 to 40 years old.
In a PSPS, whenever weather conditions (such as heat, wind, humidity levels) indicate that a wildfire could be more easily triggered if there was a problem with PG&E infrastructure, the utility could proactively cut off power. That shutoff could affect customers an hour and half away from the danger zone, and the power outage could last for days.
There are various backup generators throughout the wastewater/sewage treatment system (seven permanently installed, two dedicated portables and one shared portable stored offsite), and the fire department has a permanent generator in good condition for fire and the Emergency Operations Center.
The district launched an immediate search for a rental generator, and was lucky enough to find one. It was installed at Santa Rosa Creek well SR4 on the morning of July 18, right before the board’s meeting.
“From my experience, rental generators are very, very difficult to come by every summer,” Board President Dave Pierson said. “People don’t plan well, and stuff happens.”
He indicated that the PG&E PSPS plan only makes that shortage more acute.
“Even to rent a generator is becoming extremely difficult,” Weigold said. “If we had not rented a portable, temporary generator, and if the SS2 generator failed, we would not have been able to provide water to the community.”
It costs the district $1,982.75 per month to rent the unit.
Weigold said he’d called for inspections of CCSD’s backup power sources after attending the Cambria Fire Safe Focus Group’s June 29 seminar on wildfire preparedness, including “PG&E procedures for turning off and then restoring power after periods of risk for wildfire,” he said.
While PG&E warns that those outages could last for three to five days, “My gut tells me that could be longer,” he said, because once power is restored, crews “have to inspect every single line of the area” in which power was turned off.
Later in the meeting, directors unanimously approved spending $48,550 to buy a new generator, noting that, because so many customers are seeking the units, it could take 14 to 16 weeks for before the diesel-powered generator to be delivered.
Meanwhile, the rented generator provides enough protection for the community in case of prolonged power shutdown, Green said, adding later that it’s installed at the Santa Rosa Creek well because, of any of the district’s wells, that one produces the most water.
Various sections of Hearst Castle can operate on backup generators, according to Dan Falat, superintendent of the state park district that includes the popular historic house museum that’s a state and national historical landmark.
However, he also has asked staff for an update on all those backup systems, such as if and how the new solar-power array in the visitor center parking area factors into the plan for power outages.
“I want to make sure that we’re fully functional” even if the power is off for several days, he said, and that “if there’s something we need to do, we get it done.”
Falat also wants to “fully understand the totality of the system, and make sure those backups are sufficient to run us wholly for days,” powering everything from the Castle’s intricate security system and lighting to ticketing, shopping, dining and more.
The various units of the castle include the sprawling, lavish former hilltop estate of the powerful late media magnate William Randolph Hearst, and (about five miles away at the base of the hill), the bus barn area, the administrative complex, the visitor center and the Hearst Castle IMAX Theater.