Outage Notes

AT 3PM WEDNESDAY, October 23, the usual afternoon breezes off the Pacific began to ruffle leaves in central Boonville, but not so much as a hint of the firestorms the media had breathlessly prepped us for. So, like everyone else on the Northcoast, we were waiting for Hell's ovens to burst their doors, igniting the hills in great gusts of wind-driven flame.

BUT, in what is becoming something of a regular occurrence of mass false alarms by PG&E as they shut down power to thousands of homes and businesses to reduce risk to their shareholders' profits, the power monopoly also promotes mass confusion via contradictory messages and the on again off again functioning of their website. One would think after their web fiascos of two weeks ago PG&E would at least have reliable communications.

WE FOUND that our Supervisor, the indefatigable Ted Williams, has been the best source of up-to-date shutdown information. We learned from the Supervisor at 9:20 Saturday morning that "All of Laytonville and parts of Covelo have reported outages already. PGE outage map shows 1000+ customers out in County of Mendocino. PG&E tells us these outages were not planned and are unrelated to the PSPS."

ONE PROBLEM with these fire alerts is their multiple sources, which adds both to the confusion and misinformation in circulation. We think CalFire should be in absolute charge of deciding when conditions warrant a power shutdown, not the shareholder-driven management at PG&E. For now, we're sticking with Williams.

JIM ARMSTRONG put it best: "2:45 power off on Potter Valley, or about half of it anyway. It did blow a little bit earlier, but this is just domestic terrorism. During storms and accidents and such, one can write it off as country living. PG&E’s making up for decades of taking profit instead of maintaining its, read Our, infrastructure is simply criminal. I am halfway between stressed and pissed.”

Friday, Oct. 25

THE KINCAID FIRE was up to 16,000 acres late Thursday with an estimated 5% containment. Wind speeds were lower late Thursday but the fire was still “spotting” over fire lines. Calfire brought in more resources adding 12 helicopters and 17 air tankers to the 1300 firefighters on the ground. The fire apparently started in an area where PG&E had already shut off power. But it’s still under investigation. 

MEANWHILE, PG&E is forecasting another power outage for the North Bay on Saturday into Monday as winds are expected to reach sustained blasts of 40 or 50mph and gusts up to 70 or even 80mph at the higher elevations. This one may well impact larger portions of southeast Mendocino County including a significant segment of Anderson Valley.

SUPERVISOR WILLIAMS: PG&E anticipates another large planned power outage this Saturday due to a projected significant wind event. The estimate for Mendocino county is 8,343. Plans change with the wind.

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT reported Thursday that the Kincaid (Geyserville) fire started at or near a PG&E transmission line inside the Geysers geothermal power generating facility outside of Geyserville. Calfire discovered broken equipment on a transmission tower that was not deactivated in the Wednesday shutdown. PG&E had shut down power in the area but not on the faulty (sic) tower because, PG&E announced, it could withstand higher winds than distribution lines at lower elevations. The separate company that operates the Geysers power facility (CalPine) had shut down power on their own before the fire started. Calfire is still investigating. 

SMOKE from the Kincade Fire began drifting into Mendocino County this morning about 11. To the south, between Cloverdale and Geyserville the smoke was thick as fog. Tonight, (Thursday), much of inland Mendocino County is under a red flag warning.

GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM came down hard on PG&E on Tuesday, telling Bay Area reporters, “For decades PG&E has neglected investing in undergrounding and hardening. We’re here because of their greed. We’re here because of their mismanagement going back decades. But we are, unfortunately where we are. It’s a bankrupt investor owned utility which means that they need to invest millions and millions of dollars to get its system up to date. These blackouts have not been necessary for the scope of them for the last few weeks.”

LAWRENCE BULLOCK reported it was "85 degrees four miles up the hill from Mendocino. That's pretty warm for this time of year. So naturally I'm down for the count with a blasted head cold. Still, grateful for the NA Summer."

Saturday, Oct. 26

AS ANOTHER power shut down looms for Saturday, the Anderson Valley receives contradictory information. Are we off or are we spared? Depending on the source, we're both.

ACCORDING TO PG&E'S PRESSER of late Friday afternoon, the Mendo communities going dark "between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. tomorrow and lasting until mid-day Monday," include Albion, Annapolis, Boonville, Branscomb, Calpella, Covelo, Cloverdale, Cummings, Dos Rios, Elk, Fort Bragg, Gualala, Harris, Hopland, Laytonville, Leggett, Littler River, Manchester, Philo, Piercy, Point Arena, Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Rockport, Talmage, Ukiah, Westport, Willits and Yorkville.

PG&E says it is expecting a wind event of "historic" proportions starting Saturday, with wind speeds in some areas of 45-60 mph and gusts up to 70 mph. 

PG&E's stock is on its way to becoming worthless as it plummeted again Friday to $5 a share. Already in bankruptcy for causing the disastrous NorCal of two years ago, it appears as if it was a PG&E failure at the Geysers that ignited the Kincade catastrophe.

THE GEYSERS, history of: For ten thousand years prior to the arrival of the noble pioneers, the original people enjoyed the Geyser's soothing mineral waters without attempting to monetize them. In the late 19th century into the early 20th, the site was a hot springs retreat for the city's well-to-do. Circa late 1960's into the early 70s, as a friend puts it, "hippie swarms had infested it and it had devolved into filth and decay." Then came PG&E and minor earthquakes and major fires. 

GOVERNOR NEWSOM'S fulminations about PG&E's sins are impressively thunderous, but we'll see if he and the state legislature follow up with their threats to make the giant for-profit monopoly a truly public-public utility. 

THE INEVITABLE “Senior Fellow from the Blah-Blah Institute,” declared on NPR that he thought PG&E should be sold to Warren Buffet, apparently not realizing that Buffet, kindly and avuncular-seeming as he is, is a hedge fund bandit, not a philanthropist. In the interests of private profit, which is the prob with PG&E at the present, Buffet would strip the company of its marketable assets and we’d be left with candles and matches.

PG&E’s Boonville Notice the afternoon of October 24, 2019: “Due to gusty winds and dry conditions, combined with a heightened fire risk, PG&E may need to turn off power for public safety at this address in the next 36 to 48 hours. As we continue to monitor conditions, please prepare for outages that could last longer than 48 hours.”

PG&E might at least spare us the line "for public safety" when even third graders know the shutdown is to protect their shareholders. The shutdowns are costing everyday citizens many more millions than large scale fires. The only good thing coming out of all this is that the company's shareholders are taking a perhaps fatal beating.

BAY AREA news outlets are reporting that Big Tech is so angry with PG&E for their “unreliable distribution system” that Big Tech is talking about developing their own power sources or moving out of state. Hopefully, the latter.

Sunday, Oct. 27

SUPERVISOR WILLIAMS 9AM SATURDAY: I anticipate most of Mendocino County being subject to loss of electricity between Saturday evening and late Monday as part of a planned shut down and wind storm damage. Add a couple of days for PG&E to restore in phases and we’re probably looking at back to normal on Wednesday. Plan for the worst — stock up on supplies and be alert. (Incidentally, I responded to a report of flames on a 60kv line in Little River last night. Report any sighting via 911 even if intermittent. Treat all down wires as energized and keep a safe distance.)

AS the power shut off looms, we could not say what our website situation will be for the next few days. We planned to continue posting daily to the extent possible depending on whatever arrangements can be made at whatever alternate access points we can find. Stay tuned. 

ANDERSON VALLEY'S LEGENDARY AND FORMER DEPUTY, Keith Squires, lives in Windsor where evacuation orders were issued on October 24. We can imagine Squires saying, "I'm not going anywhere," and meaning it.

SUPERVISOR WILLIAMS 9AM SATURDAY: I anticipate most of Mendocino County being subject to loss of electricity between Saturday evening and late Monday as part of a planned shut down and wind storm damage. Add a couple of days for PG&E to restore in phases and we’re probably looking at back to normal on Wednesday. Plan for the worst — stock up on supplies and be alert. (Incidentally, I responded to a report of flames on a 60kv line in Little River last night. Report any sighting via 911 even if intermittent. Treat all down wires as energized and keep a safe distance.)

CONFUSION IN PHILO: Several Philo residents have told us they can't tell if they're going to be powered-down or remain powered-up. Some addresses are said to be off the shutdown list, some are on it. The PG&E outage map seems to encircle Philo, but not all of it…

EARLY THIS MORNING, San Anselmo's 76 station was out of fuel. The adjacent Safeway was down to its last battery pack and out of ice and many other products presumed to be useful in an emergency. The rest of Saturday, for Marin residents, was spent waiting for power to go out.

MSP RECEIVED A MESSAGE from a viewer at 12:12 pm saying, “Traveling southbound 101 in Windsor right now. Traffic at about 10 miles per hour. Heavier than normal traffic heading towards Mendo County but moving at the limit.” She then added, “Made it to Windsor. Traffic is crawling southbound 101. Can see the roads from town leading to 101 and they are packed. Northbound 101 is still moving freely. That would be my choice of evacuation route at this point.”

SOME AV RESIDENTS were assembling at the County Fairgrounds in Boonville in apparent anticipation of the upcoming outage. 

AT THE BOONVILLE FIREHOUSE, Ambulance Manager Clay Eubanks was conducting EMT update training.

A MATTER OF FACT, “whatever”/“guess we’re going to sleep early tonight” attitude in anticipation of the Saturday outage along with the possible Halloween outage has replaced the low-grade dread that some Boonville residents were experiencing. “Time to get a generator, I suppose,” added one, “this is really the new normal.”

Tuesday, Oct. 29

WE LOST POWER at 5:45pm Saturday, October 26, and as of 3pm Monday, like everyone else, we’re still mostly incommunicado. 

DECLARING THE POWER SHUTOFF A “BIG FAILURE,” Supervisor Ted Williams said Tuesday morning on KZYX that the County planned to do a “post mortem” with a list of problems caused by or related to PG&E. Williams asked the public to keep notes on problems they’ve experienced and send them in when things settle down. He offered his county number, 972-3993, and home phone, 937-3500, for people who may want to call in with reports or problems — medical, phone, internet, water, generators, gas, recharging stations, showers, water storage, oxygen. Williams email address is: williamst@mendocinocounty.org. We’re pretty sure all the Super would be happy to accept such reports.

WILLIAMS bluntly added, “NO FIRES!” The high fire risk continues and people should be watchful. Williams said anyone with a generator should never leave it unattended while on, and if anyone sees smoke or fire, don’t hesitate to call it in to 911. 

CEO CARMEL ANGELO complained about PG&E Tuesday morning as well, saying that the County has been unable to get accurate info out of them. Especially, regarding “re-energization.” 

EMERGENCY SERVICES COORDINATOR, Sheriff’s Lieutenant Shannon Barney, was so frustrated with PG&E’s silence, inaccuracies and changing info that on Tuesday he was heard to exclaim, “We’re getting better info off of Facebook than we are from PG&E.”

NEVERTHELESS, PG&E announces, finally, that they expect the current “wind event” to be over Wednesday morning. But nobody knows how soon power will be turned back on. Apparently, two of the three major trunk lines into Mendo need work in the aftermath of the winds, so power restoration may be as late as Friday, or Saturday. In fact, power returned 3:15am Thursday, October 31st.

MANY LAND LINE PHONES have been off because ATT’s backup batteries ran down as the power outage lengthened. Apparently, ATT is bringing in generators to re-power the phone lines; some improvements were noticed by Tuesday. 

SCHOOLS ARE CLOSED around the County, leaving working parents to make hasty childcare arrangements.

EVACUATION WARNINGS were still in place for the “Compost” or “Burris” fire in Potter Valley. As of Tuesday noon it was 65% contained at under 1,000 acres. A fire reported in Willits on Monday was a “small vegetation fire” efficiently suppressed by fast-responding local resources. Unfortunately, there was an immediate “evacuation order” given out and some Willits residents rushed north from their workplaces in Ukiah only to discover that within about half-an hour the “order” was downgraded to an evacuation “warning.” 

ROSSI HARDWARE in Boonville was open for supplies like flashlights and batteries. The Redwood Drive-in/Gas Station got another load of fuel Tuesday morning and a line was again forming for fuel by early Tuesday afternoon.

THE SOUTH COAST OF Mendo has reported receiving a contingent of Sonoma County evacuees from the Sonoma Coast. They seem to be accommodating them. 

A COUPLE OF PEOPLE at the AV Community Services District were not shy about pointing out that this power outage is yet another reason to develop the water and sewer systems for Boonville. Plans include a heavy duty back-up generator to keep water and sewer running when PG&E goes out again — as they most assuredly will.

NOT TO BE DETERRED, the Halloween “Dark Carnival” at the Philo Grange. 

ABOUT 3pm Tuesday afternoon, a column of smoke was reported off Peachland Road northeast of Boonville. Responding local units were underway in hope that it wasn’t anything more than smoke check (which there have been several of already just in Anderson Valley.) Local responders couldn't find either fire or smoke in the Peachland area and returned to the firehouse around 3:35pm.

KORLA PANDIT. PG&E’s Sikh spokesman — Sikhs wear turbans — reminded old, old timers of a cornball tv show from the 1950’s featuring a black guy named Redd who called himself Korla Pandit and pretended to be an East Indian prince.

He’d look enigmatic as all hell as he played the organ. Pandit, who lived in Petaluma, was considered exotic in ’55, almost as exotic as Liberace, and no one was aware he was a black guy from St. Louis until after his death.

Wednesday, Oct. 30

MOST MENDOLANDERS were still without power Wednesday at noon. Overly optimistic hopes that power would be restored on Wednesday were undermined by what one Mendo official said about PG&E: “You can’t count on anything they say.”

CURRENT EXPECTATIONS of power restoration range from Wednesday to Friday or perhaps even later. Odds for later rather than earlier went up Wednesday morning when Supervisor Ted Williams said that PG&E was having “voltage stabilization issues.”

BUT UKIAH was back on Wednesday afternoon as was Redwood Valley, but Potter Valley, Fort Bragg and Willits, Anderson Valley, and Point Arena were still off as of 3pm. And County officials were still saying that “most of the rest of the County” should have power before the end of the day Wednesday. 

AN EMS/AMBULANCE SURGE in 911 calls in the Highway 101 corridor was handled without much trouble, reportedly, although inland ambulance services are famously fragile and have limited capacity. 

ANDERSON VALLEY SCHOOLS announced Wednesday afternoon that they’d given up for the entire week and will resume instruction next Monday.

THE WILLITS SENIOR CENTER had to cook up over $6,000 worth of refrigerated food that was nearing its end of life without power. They made a LOT of stew then put a sign out front saying “FREE FOOD.”

HARSH WORDS FROM CEO ANGELO: “I don’t believe anything PGE reports right now. Everything they told us was inaccurate. They have good staff (Alison Talbot) as liaisons but they don’t empower or inform their liaisons. PGE is creating a public health emergency for the people in Northern California. Something MUST be done before someone dies due to PSPS.”

FOR THE SHORT TERM, something needs to be done about the power monopoly’s credibility problem. 

THE STATE needs to set up an independent authority to oversee PG&E’s day to day operations and to be a credible conduit to local authorities and the public. A group of elite retired military disaster relief officers with electrical power experience should be assigned to PG&E’s operational hq to make all decisions when public safety power shut offs are anticipated. They should also be charged with keeping local officials and the state reliably and frequently updated like Calfire does on a daily or even hourly basis. 

SURPRISINGLY, we have not heard any reports of generators causing fires — so far. This was one of the big worries as the shut-offs approached as drunks and incompetents fumbled in the dark with their stored gasoline containers. 

NO RAIN in sight. Dry conditions for the foreseeable future. 

WE CAN ONLY HOPE that either PG&E or an oversight board of some kind — not the PUC, PLEASE! — can at least restore some confidence in the communications area. As it is, we don’t even know what we don’t know. If Mendo Sheriff’s Lieutenant Shannon Barney is reduced to Facebook posts for power shutoff info, we’re in a sorry, sorry state.

EVER OPTIMISTIC, Mendocino County has established a “complaint line” for people to report problems associated with the shut off: 234-6300. We’re supposed to believe that if we tell them that the outage caused this or that problem, something will be done about it for the next outage. But if it’s PG&E that needs to do something, as they said before, “Don’t count on it.”

SUPERVISOR WILLIAMS also wants people to inform him of any local price gouging they come across. County number: 972-3993, home phone, 937-3500.

WE READ one report out of Fort Bragg that a couple was charged $100 for a motel room the first night, double that the next two nights.

SUPERVISOR WILLIAMS has consistently provided timely, accurate and useful outage information.

MENDO EMERGENGY COORDINATOR Shannon Barney told his colleagues Wednesday afternoon that the County will prepare “one of the longest after-action reports in history to address the obvious problems with PG&E.”

AND WE HAVEN’T EVEN BEGUN to talk about the economic impact of all of this, both direct and indirect.

MENDOCINO COUNTY got the implicit message over nearly five power-free days that we're a low priority population, there being relatively few of us at about 90,000 souls. A longer power outage, with us restored like whenever, would convert the low intensity panic we've seen over the last week in the scramble for fuel, batteries, booze (booze running a strong third in the larger population concentrations), water, and canned foods. The lesson we've drawn at the ava bunker from "the new normal" is that we should be prepared to go it alone for a month. At least. We'd debated investing in a generator, but the NO's won on the assumption that our captors, the PG&E monopoly, would free us after a day or two. Well into Day 5, and an entire week's work put on hold, generator here we come. I think most of us have drawn the only conclusion available — next time we'll be ready, if not completely ready at least prepared for a week removed from Western Civ.

WE'RE IMMENSELY GRATEFUL to the Anderson Valley Fire Station and personnel who graciously made room for us to rejoin cyber-communications long enough to post a few items of, hopefully, general interest. Chief Avila and Assistant Chief Angela Dewitt, apart from keeping an eye open for local emergencies, also found time to answer emergency related questions.

THE NEW NORMAL, intelligent opinion agrees, is longer, hotter summers, shorter, wetter winters. We're getting a generator, a camp stove, a month's worth of MRE's (much improved over the C-Rations of my youth), batteries, and maybe a couple extra boxes of shotgun shells.

IN BETWEEN power notices, all of which said nothing specific and recommended the PG&E website and call-in phone numbers that were unavailable, we relied on Facebook messages — avail only when we powered up at the Boonville Fire Station, and they mostly derived from our tireless Supervisor, Mr. Williams and, when we could reach it, MendocinoSportsPlus. KZYX's hourly updates were comprehensive but repetitive and invariably behind MSP and our hyper-vigilant Supervisor.

IT DOESN'T SEEM to have gotten the attention it deserves, but Sheriff Allman's praise for the firefighters who kept Burris/Cold Creek Compost Fire from jumping Highway 20 to burn south was well-deserved. From all accounts the blaze came close to blowing up into a much larger conflagration but for the valiant efforts of a relative handful of firefighters.

KUDOS also are due Congressman Huffman for persuading ICE to lighten up on Mexicans who had taken refuge at Sonoma County shelters.

HAVING RETREATED to Marin on the safe assumption the influential suburb would likely see power restored prior to orphaned Mendo, which turned out to be the case, the first news I heard was Trump bellowing about the death of “Al Big Daddy.” For a second there I thought Trump had personally dispatched Al out on the White House lawn. 

ARRIVING IN MARIN Tuesday about noon, I drove past three closed service stations. At the San Anselmo Safeway people were lined up all the way to the rear of the store from the Starbucks kiosk. Southbound traffic was heavy from Novato all the way to the GG Bridge as Marin people headed to Frisco to gas up and re-supply, meaning many thousands of suburbanites were totally unprepared for emergencies. If SF had been grid-less, then what?

Friday, Nov. 1

POWER returned to the Anderson Valley at the convenient hour of 3:15am, the time of night even the tweakers tend to take a break.

IN FAIRFAX Tuesday, the Good Earth grocery store gave away all their perishables. An orderly line two blocks long formed minutes after the market's "Free Food" sign was posted. Contrary to myth, Marin's demographic is much like Mendo's — some wealthy people, lots of well-to-do people, more strugglers and poor than comfortable. 

ABOUT a dozen looters were arrested during the week much of Sonoma County was evacuated, some of them wearing fireman's garb.

A FEW LOCALS wondered why Boonville High School was closed during the outage given the large array of solar panels ordinarily powering its buildings. Answer: Sun power is routed through lines owned by PG&E. When they're de-juiced, solar or not you're cursing the dark. (The ava's stark compound is solar powered but we, too, fumble for our Rice Krispies in the Stygian gloom until the hostage-takers allow us to again turn to merry King Sol for energy.)

THE LEMONS family kept the Philo Market open during the power shut down, as did, in Boonville, Pic&Pay, AV Market, Lizzby's, Boontberry for a while initially, and the Redwood Drive-In. All these businesses kept Boonville re-supplied. Not sure about the redoubtable Dave Evans at the Navarro Store but he was surely also on duty. All-in-all, the Anderson Valley looked after our own, checking on elders and universally doing the right thing throughout the emergency.

ON-LINE COMMENT: "Do you honestly think that PG&E shut down all their power generation plants statewide? They didn’t. They cranked up the turbines and sold that electricity out of state. For profit. While we sat and shivered in the dark."

OVERALL, we were pretty much incommunicado for five days. We posted what we could of our usual array of essential information and piercing insights, but we could not print our paper-paper last week, the first print edition we’ve missed publishing in forty years. It’s been a perfect storm of impossibilities for the paper-paper. First the blackout, then Healdsburg Printing’s entire crew was evacuated and locked out of their print shop and, perhaps worst of all, the lady who puts the paper together, the remarkable Renee Wyant, was stuck in Portland. Those of you who get the paper-paper, look for it on November 6th and, like, whenever outside the Anderson Valley.

EMBLEMATIC of this unprecedented event — first evacuation of this size since the 1906 Earthquake, and ’06 didn’t displace anywhere near the million people of this fire storm — at exactly 1:45pm Monday afternoon a fuel tanker truck appeared at the Redwood Drive-In. Almost simultaneously, traffic backed up in front of ava headquarters as motorists magically appeared to fill up their tanks.

DRIVING north a week ago Sunday morning, between Santa Rosa and Windsor the wind buffeted my car and a thick, dark, debris-hurling smoke enveloped me. Surprised that the highway was still open, I wasn’t surprised it was closed in both directions soon after. Then, approaching Cloverdale, all was serene, and it was late Fall again on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, all sunshine and golden poplars and kaleidoscopic reds in the maples. Ordinarily not a praying man, I hoped the people at the front of this roaring monster would survive battling it.

WILL GOVERNOR NEWSOM’S tough talk about “the greed and incompetence” of PG&E result in the monopoly for-profit becoming, at last, a public utility run in the primary interest of the public it “serves”? Add to PG&E’s list of wildly overpaid executives, the millions of our dollars they’ve doled out to shareholders, and the many millions they’ve distributed to our professional officeholders over the years. Take their money and vote against them? We’ll see. 

WE’LL be telling stories about this catastrophe until the next one which, people who study these things say, will occur regularly from here on. The “new normal,” they call it.

One Response to "Outage Notes"

  1. Hugo   November 11, 2019 at 11:13 am

    The Public Utilities Commission has 1000 employees supervising everything PGE does down to tooth pick size, yet it cannot after two years coin a simple remedy.

    Namely, PGE should be required to insulate all its lines by the end of 2020 or be broken into pieces. PGE should cut all trees near their lines from the ground to the sky. If property owners object, they should be fined 1000 bucks.

    The Governor should tell PGE to implement these solutions immediately.

    Meanwhile there should be back up generators for all of the coast. There was no danger to PGE’s lines on the coast. The only reason the coast was without power is the generated power came from Santa Rosa though areas at risk where lines were closed. We need a closed loop for the coast which generates its own power, perhaps using the hot air of politicians who are all talk and no action.

    Reply

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