News


Power outage hits Midtown Palo Alto

Utilities customers along Middlefield and in Midtown were in the dark

An outage that occurred at about 9:20 a.m. Tuesday morning left about 1,600 Palo Alto customers without power, according to a city official.

The outage, whose cause is not yet known, hit the Midtown neighborhood between West Bayshore Road and Middlefield Road and all along Middlefield Road from at least East Meadow north to Homer Avenue.

Other streets affected were Louis Road, Seale Avenue, Channing Avenue and Lincoln Avenue, said Debra Katz, utilities communications manager for the City of Palo Alto.

The outage ended by 12:20 p.m. for all but about 60 customers, according to the Utilities Department website. Most of those are commercial customers along Middlefield.

Power was restored to around 800 customers north of Colorado Avenue by 10:45 a.m., Katz said. While the city initially estimated the outage affected 1,950 affected customers, that figure was revised down to 1,500-1,600 by late morning.

As of 12:20 p.m., the city reported, "The problem area has been isolated to a circuit between 2900 and 3100 Middlefield, but the cause is still unknown. Multiple crews are onsite working to get the remaining customers restored."

Crews worked throughout the outage to "check each major circuit to find the cause of the outage and are restoring power to the circuits once they verify it is safe to do so," according to the city's website.

William Phelps, a resident who lives near Ohlone Elementary School, said at 9:40 a.m. power in his house was out when he returned home.

Another resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, south of Colorado, said the power went out in her house at about 9:25 a.m.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 21, 2012 at 10:27 am

Out for over an hour and the UPS is now shut down. Come on Palo Alto what is the problem here? We have had more power outages than any other area nearby.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 21, 2012 at 10:32 am

The city now has me roll my trash cans out to the street, the letter carrier will not bring the letter all the way to my door, with all these ever diminishing and crappy service maybe the CITY OF PALO ALTO WOULD LIKE TO RESET ALL MY CLOCKS AND APPLIANCES EVERY TIME THEY MESS UP MY POWER LIKE THIS.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 21, 2012 at 10:34 am

Power on in Crescent Park 10:23am.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 10:39 am

Power still off at midtown 10:38. At least the Honda generator works better than PA utilities.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bug-Off
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 21, 2012 at 10:40 am

I believe this is a plan the mosquitoes have concocted to get people out of their houses. The revolution will not be televised, it will be smellevised.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 21, 2012 at 10:42 am

Power still out along Loma Verde, 10:42 am.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 21, 2012 at 10:44 am

Embarcadero was out at Newell and the next light too.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 21, 2012 at 11:00 am

Power back on at 10:30. This part of Palo Alto looses power very frequently, why?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by William
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 11:10 am

My gosh, it's been ages since we've had a power outage, and they got it back on very quickly. I for one am grateful for this level of service. It has to be a difficult task to find the cause and then safely restore power, and they did it quickly. Thanks Palo Alto Utilities!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 11:17 am

I've lived in this area (Palo Alto & Menlo Park) since '78 and have always been impressed with how seldom we lose power here in Palo Alto and how quickly it's back on when lost.

I've always had a stash of candles ready "in case," but rarely get to use them and when I do, they are rarely necessary for more than a few minutes (and on those occasions I'll often leave the candles lit and turn the returning lights off).

For those whining about the outage and "how often" I courteously suggest you move into a PG&E zone. You'll have the opportunity to exercise those whining muscles much more often and will develop some endurance skills.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Michael
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 11:21 am

Power is still off. No worries...the best experiences don't require electricity. I say, get it on!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Silly
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 21, 2012 at 11:23 am

Did another balloon hit a wire.

Will our brilliant over-paid utilities dept. think to have a recording on the Electric Outages telephone extension which was constantly busy? On the Main City number? I finally got a telephone recording at the Gas Leaks number!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by South of Loma Verde
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 11:25 am

Look on the bright side - we're saving power today. Cannot get greener than zero consumption... :-)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2012 at 11:30 am

> She [Katz] said she didn't yet know the cause of the outage

> Crews fixing the outages must check each major circuit to find
> the cause of the outage and are restoring power to the circuits once
> they verify it is safe to do so, according to the city's website.

So, if the crews in the field are "fixing" the outages, they must have some idea what the cause of the outage is. Seems kind of strange that the Crew Chief could inform the PR person what the problem is, and what the expected time-of-completion for the restoration of service might be. (or and email).

> Crews have been dispatched to place traffic signs at
> Middlefield intersections.

Interesting. Back in the good ole days of rolling blackouts, the City claimed it didn't have any personnel to put signs out, or to provide traffic control at the major intersections.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2012 at 11:44 am

> For those whining about the outage and "how often" I
> courteously suggest you move into a PG&E zone. You'll
> have the opportunity to exercise those whining muscles
> much more often and will develop some endurance skills.

The reliability of the US power grid is expressed in "9s". Generally, the US Grid claims three "9s" of reliability, meaning that it is up 99.9% of the time. Expressed in minutes, this means that the Grid is offline/unavailable about 8.75 hours a year.

The PAU does not generally document its downtime to the customers, although the outages might be documented in the PAU packets. Downtown for PG&E is also a little hard to track, although it probably is reported to the California Public Utilities Commission, in one way or another.

Anyone living in Palo Alto, who does not work for the Public Utility Commission tracking PG&E downtime is very unlikely to know anything about the reliability of PGE's grid availability, or the time to restore these outages. PG&E also covers a lot more territory, with much harsher terrain to deal with than the small service area that the Palo Alto Utility deals with.

Comments like those denigrating PG&E give ignorance, and chauvinism, a bad name.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Debra Katz
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 21, 2012 at 11:54 am

I just wanted to clarify for "Wondering?" waht the process is. When the Utilities crews check a circuit and do not find any faulty equipment or other problem, they can then restore power to that circuit and all the customers along it.

A large power outage can occur beause there is a problem somewhere along the main line which triggers multiple circuits to automatically switch off. However, there may be nothing wrong with those other circuits. That is what has happened in this case. So far, the circuits checked were NOT the source of the problem and so could be safely turned back on. The multiple crews in the field are going from circuit to circuit restoring power but until they find the one where the problem exists, there is no identified "cause." I will keep our website updated so as soon as we know anything more, you will know it, too. ( www.cityofpaloalto.org/utilities )

Debra Katz, Utilities Communications Manager
debra.katz@cityofpaloalto.org


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Debra Katz
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 21, 2012 at 11:57 am

A brief apology to my elementary school teachers...I really do know how to spell "what" and "because" but in my haste did not double check my typing in my comment above.(-;


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Nancy
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 12:03 pm

In the absence of electricity, a dental hygienist was able to complete her work on my teeth, thanks to a nice bright headlamp. And even with the lights out I was able to pick up a few things at Safeway, paying with a credit card no less. Kudos to my dentist and to Safeway.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by marie
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Hey be greatful and stop whining. you have a city owned power company and aren't being screwed like I am living in Menlo Park and having to put up with PG&E. As a friend of mine used to call it the profit graph and extortion company.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Power
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 21, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Power on at PV elementary. 12:06


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Moshe
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Power on at Christine Drive.

Eric,
Thanks for keeping us in the loop. Combined with the comments, this was a very useful source of information.

Debra Katz,
Thanks for your comments, and given this online experience, perhaps something the city can/should look at - allowing consumers to post comments on an outage 'story'.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2012 at 12:21 pm

> When the Utilities crews check a circuit and do not find any
> faulty equipment or other problem, they can then restore power
> to that circuit and all the customers along it.

Since this process seems to be slightly at odds with the material used by the Weekly in its story, perhaps the City should modify the language on its web-site to be more reflective of reality.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by paarchitect
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Stopped by Philz on Loma Verde and Middlefield only to realize the power was still out at 11:45AM.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Julian
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 21, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Debra Katz,
Thanks for the hard info. I'll intercede with your teachers if you need it. ;-)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sargeant
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Power restored at Middlefield and Loma Verde
at 1:17 PM.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by just thinkin'
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Do you suppose the thousands upon thousands in rual area who can NOT get broad-band are saying
I cried when my downloads were slow, until Iheard people didn't have electricity...........??


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sargesnt
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Power out AGAIN Loma Verde and Middlefield


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Richard
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Palo Alto utiltiies are very reliable compared to other utilties I have used, including PG&E. In the town where I grew up we not only had power outages, we had water outages. Some were unplanned, some were planned. For the latter, we would be told to prepare for 24-48 hours without water pressure. We would fill every tub, sink and pan with water in advance and try to live on that until the pressure came back. That has never happened for the 30+ years that I have been living in Palo Alto, and I can recall only a few power outages.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 21, 2012 at 5:22 pm

We've lived in 4 different homes in Palo Alto over the past 20 years. We have had more power outages at this home in the past 3 years than in all the others during the previous 17 years.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Brit
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 21, 2012 at 5:38 pm

I have lived in a couple of European countries and power cuts were rare, very seldom occurred. The biggest difference I can see is that there all utilities are underground as a matter of course. Roads are rarely dug up for utilities work in residential areas as well.

I consider that we frequently get power cuts here and roads are frequently dug up, particularly after the road has been completely resurfaced.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by BP
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2012 at 6:12 pm

We've lived in Midtown for over 42 years and have had only 3 outages -
the earthquake of '89, the plane crash that brought down the entire city and today. I like them (power outages, minor earthquakes) it brings the neighborhood together. In my two block walk to the bus stop today I met neighbors and we all reassured each other, just hoping that nothing was seriously wrong and no one was hurt.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Brit
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 21, 2012 at 6:49 pm

I have lived here many years and during that time we have had many power cuts. Some are localised, some have been more extensive and of course there was the one that was the best part a day all over the city.

Although they do not inconvenience me very much, particularly if they are through daytime, but I do not work from home, try to teach in school, or run a business. I am not sure how schools manage without power but I have observed that they can be extremely dark during the day without lights switched on which must make it difficult to read and write, let alone use any electrical equipment. I am not sure if businesses such as restaurants and supermarkets, let alone dentists and other offices, can function without power.

I just think that it is wrong in this day and age to be suject to power cuts which can cost a business a great deal of money. For any restaurant to lose one day's lunchtime business it could mean the difference of being in the black or the red at the end of the week.

Power cuts are more than inconvenient to a great number of the customers who were without power today. Yes it is nice to be neighbourly, but it is much more serious than that.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 21, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Last time there was a power failure around Palo Verde, it was a duck that flew into the power lines down near the wall with navigational signals for birds heading to the Baylands. Anyone check for a roast duck hanging around the neighborhood?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PV Parent
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 21, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Fwiw kids and staff at Palo Verde Elementery seem to have taken the 2.5 hour outage in stride. Mine said teachers used white boards instead of smart boards and went right on with their lessons and activities. And there was a "regular old fashioned whistle" to indicate the end of recess.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 21, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Decades ago I lived in a small midwestern city with its own coal-fired power plant, tied to a regional grid. Occasionally the grid would have a problem somewhere with a lightning storm or something, and the city would isolate itself to avoid going down like a domino. This was mostly transparent to local customers, except amusingly the clocks would lose a few minutes per hour as our island of electricity diverged from the nominal 60 Hz.

I'm concerned that today's systems are much more interdependent. Power distribution networks now stretch nationwide like one large antenna. Every 11 years or so the sun tests our recent progress with a breakout of sunspots, and we are ramping toward the maximum in about six months. If we take a bad hit, the aurora borealis could put on an impressive display, as our transformers may all be blown and our night skies quite dark. Is there an expert out there who can tell me this won't happen? I was looking forward to a comfortable retirement.

Today's outage was just another small illustration of how dependent we've become on reliable electricity.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 22, 2012 at 8:54 am

While several posters have listed a couple outages at their homes, suggesting possibly that these outages constituted the totality of outages for the whole city, reality is that the local power redistribution system is broken up in a goodly number of smaller circuits that serve from a few hundred to one-two thousand homes/businesses.

Searching the Weekly's archive will produce a list of power outages around town over the past fifteen years or so. Used "power outage" as a search key.

Most of the outages involve small areas around the city. When these outages do occur they are usually corrected within a few hours. When these outages occur on a work day, during the day, they might not even be noticed by people who are at work.

Regrettably, the PAU does not seem to provide a public listing of the date/time/duration/location/accounts impacted/cause of these outages for the public's edification and history's benefit.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Brit
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 22, 2012 at 9:19 am

Thanks for the comments and the help. I perhaps used the wrong terminology on my search.

As you say, PAU does not have an efficient manner for us to search their outage records over the years. Yet it is very interesting that they continue to monitor our usage and efficiency in comparison to our neighbours and routinely inform us of this information.

It may be worth the time of an investigative reporter at the Weekly to look into the history of these outages over the past decade to enable us to see exactly what the situation has been and to ask PAU why this information isn't being recorded by them where the public can see it. I don't doubt that they keep these records for themselves.

It may also be the time for them to install a tool on their website to report and check outages, and as someone mentioned in one of the posts above, for us to be able to post our information to help others to see just how widespread any given outage and the likelihood of the duration due to the fact that in any outage the phone lines are clogged.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 22, 2012 at 12:07 pm

@ Brit--

If you had a report from the CPAU that power had been out in a certain neighborhood 3 times in the past 5 years, for a total of 4.5 hours, what would you do with that information?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Brit
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 23, 2012 at 8:31 am

I personally wouldn't do anything with the information, but I think it ought to be out there.

I think it would make sense to have their reliability available to customers. I think it would make sense to find out just how expensive each outage is in terms of how much it costs to repair each outage due to trees bringing down power lines, etc. I know we know that this particular outage was underground this time, but the majority of outages appear to be on overhead wiring and it would be interesting to see how many times outages have been caused by underground wiring as opposed to overhead wiring.

PAU loves data when it comes to our usage. Why shouldn't they publish data about themselves?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Thomas L Nicholson
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2012 at 8:45 am

I grew up in the woods in Maine and we lost power once in the 33 years I lived there go figure. In techno valley the power goes out regularly I have counted 3 times in the past 2 days counting today. The city needs to update it infrastructure...it is that simple. We are running on old outdated equipment. I think I will go off the grid and use solar power with a backup generator. This is what you expect in central Africa. Even Mexico has more reliability than this. Come on PA utilities we can do better.


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