Cambrian: Slice of Life

Those PG&E power outage plans are a changin’. But in Cambria at least, we were ready

Among our Tanner mantras are: Mulligan’s law (“Murphy was an optimist”); and “Plans are made for changing.”

That certainly rang true for a couple of recent power outages in Cambria, one expected and one decidedly not.

(Those outages weren’t part of PG&E’s much-publicized Public Safety Power Shutdown, widespread preemptive action to prevent wildfires caused by electrical equipment problems when temps and winds are high and humidity levels are way low. The utility has been warning us all for months in our inboxes, mailboxes and beyond to “prepare now” for the possibility of being without power for several days.)

In a slightly bizarre turn of events, PG&E had warned many Cambrians to expect a short, planned outage, but there were a few days of uncertainly about what time that actually was going to happen and to whom.

According to e-alerts and computerized notification calls from PG&E, Cambria’s lights-out blip was to happen Friday the 13th. Under a full harvest moon.

Sensing any superstitious symbolism there, mebbe?

The notifications said the outage would happen sometime from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., affecting about 3,800 electrical accounts, but didn’t specify exactly what the outage’s boundaries would be.

Social media went bonkers. At dinnertime? Who would be affected?

What if someone hadn’t gotten a notice?

Some Cambrians were concerned about the early closure of shops and restaurants that would normally be open for business on Friday nights.

Others fretted about early-evening plans with friends. People with electrically powered medical equipment stressed about the timeliness of treatments. There was a short flurry of worry about the Coast Union High School football game, which (it turned out later) wasn’t even in the outage area.

Ooops! A new wave of alerts apparently indicated the outage would happen in the 7-to-7:30 p.m. time frame, shortening the potential shut-down period but still disrupting prime-time dinners and “Jeopardy” watching.

I e-begged Mark Mesesan, PG&E’s communications guru, to nail down the time and give us more details. He confirmed the 7-to-7:30 p.m. slot, adding that the actual outage of a few minutes within that half hour was happening so crews could complete some crucial maintenance on a 70,000 kw transmission line.

But plans change. Soon after our conversation (and the subsequent e-publishing of my story about the planned outage), the time frame changed again, and bumfuzzled customers in the target zone were being re-notified that the outage could start at 10 p.m. Friday night.

By now, thoroughly confused Cambrians wondered which time was the real one, and if perhaps there were going to be two (three?) outages instead of just one.

Meanwhile, some PG&E customers in other Cambria areas were being told to expect planned outages in their neighborhoods on different days and times. But at that point, they didn’t yet know they were in “other areas.” And rumor-mill channels were buzzing.

Late on Wednesday, Sept. 11, Mark confirmed that the only planned outage for Friday the 13th would be sometime between 10 and 10:30 p.m., and defined it further by saying, “the 2,500 customers who will be impacted by this very short outage generally reside north of Burton Drive and west of Santa Rosa Creek Road and Main Street.”

Bingo! So, not our house.

Therefore, imagine our surprise about 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, when our electricity went off! But???

Mesesan, who was out of town, patiently checked for me anyway and said there’d been “an equipment issue.” That outage in Cambria and Cayucos affected nearly 3,000 customers, some for about a half hour, others for most of the afternoon. And then there was the longer outage that hit 367 Los Osos-Baywood Park accounts later that day and a brief one that had about 1,600 Atascaderoans in the dark for a couple of hours.

So, after all our pre-outage fretting, how’d the Tanners do? Fine, thank you. Our power was only out for about four seconds.

In late July, with the specter of those Public Safety Power Shutdowns looming over our heads, we’d taken a deep financial breath and bought a full-house, natural-gas-powered generator.

On that hot Sept. 12, by the time we’d realized our electricity was off, we’d heard the reassuring hum of the generator starting and running, and the lights went back on. While the generator chugged away, our day continued fairly normally.

And when the power went back on? The only way we knew electricity was flowing through the grid again was when the generator stopped humming.

Yes, we know that, while the best-laid plans don’t always go awry, they almost always will change. But Mr. Murphy, this time, by golly, we were ready.

PS: Apparently, PG&E’s Friday maintenance outage in Cambria went off without a hitch. Consuelo Macedo posted the next morning, “Shucks, with all the hue and cry, my power on Croyden was out but one minute. I was all prepared with solar lights, etc.”

Brian Griffin said his electricity, also on Happy Hill, was off “for a couple of minutes.”

And Judith Larmore called the outage “a nanosecond” and said, “Good work, PG&E!”

PS2: Maybe, to diminish future confusion, PG&E should include in their planned-outage notifications the area being affected. And, if several maintenance shutoffs are being planned within a short period of time, how about numbering them, ie: Cambria 1, Cambria 2, etc.?

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