Mistake leads to blackout in Palo Alto

Daily Post Staff Writer

City of Palo Alto officials said yesterday they turned off the power to about 1,700 customers because of incorrect information they got from a power agency.

The city had announced on Tuesday evening that the outage was required by the state amid record-high power use so the grid wouldn’t suffer widespread outages.

But the city’s announcement was contradicted by the state’s grid manager, the California Independent System Operator, which said that nobody was required to shut off the power. High demand led to warnings, but rolling blackouts turned out not to be necessary.

A dispatcher from the Northern California Power Agency gave Palo Alto the wrong message to reduce its power load, Utilities Department spokesman Jordan Cowman said.

At least three other members of the Northern California Power Agency — Healdsburg, Alameda and Lodi — did the same thing as Palo Alto, shutting down power without any real need.

The Northern California Power Agency is a joint venture of 16 cities that own their own utilities, including Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Roseville and Redding. The cities pitch in money to buy electricity and build power plants together, and the agency acts as a messenger between them and the California Independent System Operator.

How it happened

The agency said in a statement yesterday that the California Independent System Operator contacted a dispatcher, and the dispatcher understood the call as a request to reduce stress on the grid.

In turn, the dispatcher called Palo Alto and told the Utilities Department to turn off power to some customers. After a 30-minute outage, the dispatcher called back and gave the city permission to turn power back on.

The city chose to turn the power in the Midtown and Old Palo Alto and Stanford Research Park because that’s where the impact would be minimized, Cowman said.

“It went exactly as expected on our end,” Cowman said.

It’s not clear whether the dispatcher from the Northern California Power Agency or the person who called the dispatcher from the California Independent System Operator is to blame for the miscommunication.

Squirrel causes another outage

Yesterday morning, there was another outage unrelated to the heat wave that affected 4,462 customers south of downtown.

Workers found that a squirrel had gotten into underground cabling. They removed the body and replaced the cable to turn the power back on, the Utilities Department said.

Recent outages

Palo Alto has experienced at least six power outages in the last five weeks, and eight outages this year. Here are the others:

• Sept. 6 — 4,462 customers lost power in southwest Palo Alto due to a bad transformer and cable.

• Aug. 22 — 3,400 customers lost power in the northeast part of town after an aging underground cable failed.

• Aug. 8 — A bird in a transformer knocked out power to 60 customers in south Palo Alto

• Aug. 5 — A tree branch fell on a power line, cutting power to 1,700 customers.

• June 14 — A tree branch knocked out power to about 225 customers in the Barron Park area including Matadero Avenue, Margarita Avenue and Roble Ridge.

• Feb. 18 — A mylar balloon floated into a power line and caused a short circuit that resulted in 4,500 customers in southeast Palo Alto losing their power.

1 Comment

  1. Glad our PA city council is so focused on mandating electric stoves and hot water heaters so we can lose the use of those too during regular blackouts.

    How bout you work on fixing underlying problems before virtue signaling on climate change?

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