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UPDATE: PG&E picking up pace of pole washing to address power outage problem

on September 30, 2021

PG&E told Richmond City Council Tuesday that dirty insulators on poles have triggered the frequent power outages residents are experiencing and that the company will wash poles “on a more regular basis.”

PG&E is washing 100 to 160 poles a day in Richmond and other parts of Contra Costa County and plans to increase that to 1,000 poles per week. With about 6,000 poles to address, PG&E expects to finish the work by Nov. 15, PG&E’s Darin Cline said. 

Over the past month, Richmond has seen more than 260 power outages, nearly 70% of them triggered by weather conditions such as rain, fog and lightning. At the peak, more than 15,000 customers in the East Bay were affected, PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian said last week. She explained that during the dry season, dust, dirt and other substances accumulate on power lines. When rain or mist hits lines, that dirt turns to mud, which conducts electricity. 

Richmond apparently is more susceptible to outages than some other East Bay cities. Neighboring Berkeley, for example, hasn’t been plagued by outages. 

Council member Gayle McLaughlin said Richmond seems to be the last to have its power restored during widespread outages. She urged PG&E not to keep the city “at the end of the line” and to make repairs there a priority. She and Mayor Tom Butt wondered if Richmond was left to wait while upgrades were made in more affluent communities. 

Butt wasn’t satisfied with Cline’s answer as to why Richmond is more affected than the rest of the Bay Area, which also has to deal with such things as salt air, dry conditions and squirrels on the lines. 

“There’s got to be something going on in Richmond that is unique,” he said.

“The only thing I can think of is a refinery, but other parts of the county have refineries, I don’t see pole fires anywhere around the other refineries,” Butt added. 

Cline assured the council that Richmond is not the only city with this problem. He said the same issue sparked “a record number of pole fires” further south in Salinas Valley, Fresno County and Kern County. 

“This problem is actually throughout our territory,” Cline said. 

PG&E usually washes insulators once or twice a year, but the long drought this year pushed it to do monthly washing. The company is in the process of upgrading lines and installing insulators that are not as susceptible to ignition. But with a dozen insulators on one pole, replacing “thousands upon thousands” can take five to 10 years, Cline said.

” I understand you have a five-to-10-year plan but actually, we would like to see things happen sooner,” McLaughlin  said. 

Resident Lisa Johnson asked for a more detailed explanation of why the outages are happening so frequently, noting that Richmond didn’t experience that during other dry spells, such as the  2014 drought. 

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