PG&E avoiding dim future 

The lights go out at Chris Zwingle’s Walnut Avenue home so often, he bought a generator.

"I travel all over the country. I went through two hurricanes in Miami and never lost power," he said. "Here, we lose power on good days."

His neighbor, Carolyn Flaherty, recalled a 12-hour blackout in December and at one point heard a nearby transformer explode.

Such incidences are why Pacific Gas and Electric Co. officials met with the public Tuesday night at the Burlingame Library, prompted by a rash of outages since December.

The city, however, has seen vast improvements since four years ago when a swarm of raucous residents demanded answers from PG&E officials, Mayor Terry Nagel said.

"That was when people were without power for days and they weren’t getting any answers," said Nagel, who helped organize BULB, or Burlingamers Unwilling to Live with Blackouts. "We’ve come a long way since then thanks to PG&E’s hard work."

Though some residential neighborhoods still endure the dark, PG&E says it has made strides. There are plans to install 14 sets of fault indicators — which locate the source of problems easier — and 19 overhead fuses, which reduce the number of customers affected on the same circuit if a blackout occurs.

Outages dropped 85 percent in Burlingame between 2002 and 2003, according to BULB.

However, recent incidents have raised concerns again.

Around noon on Jan. 20, the 1200 block of Broadway went dark on a nice sunny Saturday because of a failed transformer. Haci Kurt, co-owner of Ristorante Rocca, had to call people to cancel reservations while scurrying to find a generator.

"They said they were going to check it out and someone came in 30 minutes," he said. "We waited and waited. I was worried because I had 150 reservations. At the sametime, we were trying to get a generator."

Kurt retrieved a generator at 6:30 p.m. and power was restored around 7:15. He estimated he lost about $3,000 worth of business.

"We’re going to make a claim," he said. "When it’s windy and rainy, you understand. But on a day like this, when it’s beautiful?"

PG&E also plans to trim 2,900 trees this year, compared with 2,700 the company trimmed in 2006.

"Unfortunately, trees and wires are not always great neighbors," said Kirk Johnson, PG&E’s director of maintenance.

He added that a rise in remodeling puts a burden on old circuits, which also contributes to outages.

bfoley@examiner.com

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