Power surge pops lights, televisions in East Palo Alto

Electricity cut to more than 10 blocks Thursday night

Television sets and lights popped and and blew out in two East Palo Alto neighborhoods after a power surge Thursday night (Aug. 25).

The blow-out occurred at about 9:15 p.m. causing about 50 apartments and some homes on East O'Keefe Street and West Bayshore Road to lose power, Menlo Park Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Jim Stevens said.

About 20 homes and apartments on Glen Way and Green Street, two blocks north of University Avenue on the east side of U.S. Highway 101, were also affected.

PG&E cut additional power to about 10 blocks.

The surge burned out SmartMeters at the apartments and at some homes, residents said. Stevens said anyone with a burned meter should not turn on their electricity until an electrician has checked their home.

A PG&E worker said the source of the power surge was a 4,000 volt line. It is estimated that about 400 volts of electricity went through the homes during the surge instead of the usual 110. Wiring could be damaged in homes where the SmartMeters burned out and the company plans to inspect the homes, he said.

A burned-out wire from a high-power line at Glen Way and East Bayshore Road caused the surge, he said.

Some residents said their lights grew extremely bright and they heard loud popping sounds coming from light bulbs.

Other residents said they saw sparking and smoke coming from light poles.

"There were sparks and smoke coming from the pole and fuse boxes," Lai Uasike, a Glen Way resident, said.

Norman Uasike said he heard a big bang and saw smoke and sparks coming from power lines on Glen Way and from a power pole located next to the freeway.

"My little sister's television blew out," he said.

Power has since been restored to about 135 of the 232 customers affected by the power surge and outage, PG&E spokesman Joe Molica said. Utility crews are going door-to-door today checking for damage to power meters and circuit panels before restoring power to the remaining customers.

"We apologize to our customers for any inconvenience," Molica said. "We're working as quickly as we can to get the lights back on for them."

At 4:03 a.m. Friday, power lines also came down across a portion of U.S. Highway 101, adding to the power issues in the area. Those lines were cleared by 5 a.m. Customers who suffered damage as a result of the power surge are being encouraged to file claims for reimbursement from PG&E. A form can be found online at

Update: Most of the homes had been checked by an electrician and power had been restored by Friday afternoon. Employees handed out claim forms for destroyed electronic equipment.

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Like this comment
Posted by Bright spot somewhere!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 26, 2011 at 6:44 am


Like this comment
Posted by PG&E
a resident of Monroe Park
on Aug 26, 2011 at 7:00 am

Good excuse for PG&E to make money and update old equipment and set to surcharge...nice...Capitalism at its best

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2011 at 12:16 pm

400VAC is a very healthy dose of electricity. I wonder if the old mechanical meters would have suffered like those smart meters did.

PG&E (poster), that handle is very misleading, and I seriously douby PG&E ( the REAL company) will profit from this episode. They will have to start with replacing all those meters, and then they will have to deal with the costs of the damage THEIR surge created. Looking at the meteal boxes behind the blown-out smart meters, plus the way it was caused by "a burned out wire", they might be due for an infrastructure upgrade too. It's going to cost them.

Like this comment
Posted by Mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 26, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Biggest problem was that power was out to the Ravenswood City School District offices on East Bayshore, 1 block north of University. The e-mail, phones and computer networks were all down. Surge protectors on the servers, etc, protected the equipment from permanent harm, but back-up batteries don't last 12 hours. Schools had to start this morning with no phones or computers. All the school sites had power, but phones and network come through the Central office.

Like this comment
Posted by car o.
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 26, 2011 at 2:28 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Oops, sorry. The story got edited since my last post, now it was 40000 VAC that was sent to the houses. That's nasty, very nasty. This, like the little episode with the gas pipeline in San Bruno, is why PG&E needs to keep their infrastructure maintained. Thankfully the damage was not that bad this time, apparently.

Like this comment
Posted by do I need to look further?
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 27, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Well, that's really interesting. Because my old trusty television burned out the same time and we smelled smoke that smelled like electrical smoke but couldn't figure it out. We've replaced the TV with one someone else was getting rid of, but now I'm wondering if I need to otherwise check electrical safety in the house. Was Palo Alto affected at all?

Like this comment
Posted by Carlito Waysman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 28, 2011 at 12:03 pm

So much for the so called "smart" meters that can not handle a power surge, the "bright " minds who designed this contraption did not think about it, or thought that the chances of a power surge were so remote that they did not bother to include a safety feature to neutralize a surge.

Because PGE was pushing their users to accept this new meters, is PGE going to pay for any damage a home or apartment suffered in their electrical wiring, due to the power surge?

Or as usual, will they pass the cost to all their users in the form of a surcharge, as they intend to do with the San Bruno pipeline explosion financial costs?

Who said that there are enough regulations on big business already?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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