S.F. power outage a head-scratcher

Faced with a history of San Francisco power outages due to equipment failures, including a Tuesday blackout downtown, PG&E officials said outages are “unacceptable,” but failed to offer any specific solutions beyond ongoing upgrades to the aging power system.

Tuesday’sincident, in which breakers in a Daly City substation malfunctioned, cutting off the flow of electricity, was at least the sixth outage to affect San Francisco in two months. A June 25 outage affected 24,000 customers and came during the same eight-day period as two other incidents.

The equipment failure Tuesday caused outages to a large swath of San Francisco and the northern Peninsula. Following the power interruption, an underground transformer in front of 560 Mission St. failed. Witnesses said it exploded, shooting flames into the air.

“It’s a very old infrastructure,” San Francisco Public Utilities Commission spokesman Tony Winnicker said Wednesday. “We’ve expressed repeated concern about the PG&E-owned infrastructure in The City.”

He said the commission is concerned that the private utility does not make public comprehensive information on the status of its equipment.

PG&E officials concurred that the system is old, pointing out that PG&E has been in San Francisco for more than 100 years.

“We’ve already dedicated and started spending $600 million on improving the electric infrastructure in San Francisco,” said Darlene Chui, spokeswoman for PG&E.

Chui also noted that the utility is required to report maintenance and upgrades to the California Public Utilities Commission, a regulatory agency.

But the blackouts continue. The utility’s 2006 report indicated that the average San Francisco customer experienced an outage .82 times for a duration of 67 minutes. That means not every customer experienced an interruption, but those who did were without power an average of just over one hour per year.

Those numbers were down from 2001, the first year included in the report. That year, the average customer went without power for 97.4 minutes, an average of .97 times. The rate dropped in 2002 to .72.

“[There are] too many poweroutages,” Mayor Gavin Newsom said after city officials met with Pacific Gas and Electric officials Wednesday. “It’s just not acceptable. They’ve got to do a better job.”

PG&E spokesman Bill Morrow said in a statement that the utility also considers the outages “unacceptable,” adding that they are continuing to work to get to the bottom of Tuesday’s outage.

Utility may be stuck with bill

Many businesses lost money in the form of production hours, lost restaurant customers and other interruptions during Tuesday’s power outage in downtown San Francisco and the northern Peninsula.

The city of San Francisco intends to seek restoration of lost revenue from Pacific Gas and Electric Co., a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera said Wednesday.

“We are collecting information about the extent of city losses as the result of the outage. We will then prepare and submit a claim to PG&E,” Matt Dorsey said.

Individuals and businesses can also submit loss claims to PG&E for anything from lost wages or revenues to personal injury and even food spoilage.

“If any person, business or property is damaged because we do something unreasonable, or because we unreasonably fail to do something that should have been done, then we have an obligation to pay for reasonable damages,” the utility’s Web site states.

A claim form and information about the claim process can be found at www.pge.com/claims.

Examiner Staff Writer Bonnie Eslinger contributed to this report.

amartin@examiner.com

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