PG&E Performance Survey

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Posted by Annie in Opinion, Outdoors on November 26, 2010

Shortly before our power was restored last night. PG&E called with an automated survey to find out how we felt they handled the recent outage. Our power came back on minutes after their survey call, which was interesting timing to be sure.

Electrical Repairs

I’d like to look at this outage a little closer, perhaps PG&E is serious about providing better customer service, so I will take this opportunity to give my opinion on the chance that someone might read it and care.

For starters people who live in this area know that we are prone to power outages, especially during the winter months. Most of us are somewhat prepared but just as PG&E’s performance has room for improvement, many Twain Harte residents can do better as well.

When our power first went out, we took it in stride, fully expecting the power to be out for a few hours or perhaps even a day or so, which is normal for our area. We sat around the house and played Legos, snacked and basically enjoyed spending some quality family time.

We especially appreciated PG&E’s extended outage number. Even though the PG&E customer service folks didn’t have a great deal of information available to them, it was comforting knowing that a real live person was just a phone call away. I was able to get right through on their extended outage line every time I called, except once. (I believe I called about ten times, normally twice a day.)

After several days, I discovered the online PG&E Outage Map. It would have been helpful to know about that page sooner, as it did provide a little additional information. Another day later, I had the sense to ask the customer service representative what our “Outage Number” was. I also found that information helpful and I wish I had had that little detail earlier.

I was calling to find out how long we could expect to be without electricity, so that I could plan ahead a little. We no longer have a local gas station, so we needed to plan how large of a generator we would need and make plans to keep it fueled. I needed to be able to plan for meals — like Thanksgiving.

My husband worked on a Forest Service software project years ago. PG&E could learn a few things from the Forest Service.

You see, what PG&E wasn’t telling us is that their crews were spread very thin. Many areas could have been restored earlier (in my opinion) had PG&E had enough manpower to even locate the source of the problems. I notice that once the PG&E trucks arrived in our area, the problem was repaired within hours.

I heard a couple of rumors that disturbed me. One was that some of the outages were not repaired earlier because they couldn’t find the downed lines and another was that they had to order parts before they could fix the problem. Now, I’ve done a little wiring myself, so I can’t imagine them not having the parts they need on hand for an emergency. Even if it was a circuit board issue. Having worked as a gas station manager for many years, I know we have emergency repair people for something as obscure as that.

When a fire breaks out, the Forest Service contracts with local vendors for tools, instead of carting around axes, shovels, hammers and such. Why doesn’t PG&E contract with local electrical contractors to help pick up the slack in an emergency? The locals would be familiar with the area and able to round up parts locally, in a short amount of time.

It would also be helpful if the website contained more details. Our power was back on before the website even listed crews as being onsite. Once PG&E’s automated system even called to tell us our power was back on, when in fact it wasn’t. Afterwards, I checked their website and they listed our outage as beginning at the exact time I had called to notify them that our power was not restored.

This caused even more stress because I had no way of knowing if we were getting pushed to the bottom of the list, because PG&E didn’t know that our power had been out for days.

I was also frustrated when two of their representatives informed me that they were “working on the problem,” when in fact, they had not even arrived onsite and wouldn’t for two more days. It is not nice to lie to the people who are paying your salaries.

Electrical outages can be expected, but how we respond to the challenge makes all the difference in the world.

Our family is in the process of evaluating our own emergency procedures. We are picking up items that will make our life easier because we know that this is just the beginning of this winter season with possibly more wicked winter storms on the way. Being prepared can make all the difference in reducing stress levels and weathering a storm with ease.

If you don’t have an emergency plan, don’t wait. Make sure everyone knows his or her job and you know where your supplies are stored. I know our next winter storm, we will be better prepared. We did a pretty good job this time around but there is still room for improvement. How did your family manage through the storm?

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Thanksgiving Update

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Posted by Annie in Restaurants, Twain Harte News on November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, of course, the power outage continues. The good news is, we have four or five PG&E crews working just blocks from the house, one crew is actually behind the house working.

We skipped the grilled fish dinner I had planned and opted instead for a wonderful buffet spread hosted by Diamond Jim’s restaurant in Mi-Wuk  – and we weren’t alone. The ham with raisin rum sauce was delicious. We met people who came from Groveland and another group of people who were taking advantage of the early ski season at Dodge Ridge.

On another note: I do have a little more good news. After 6 or 7 days without cell service, our cell phones finally work. They came back online sometime before 3-4:00 p.m. today.

I’ll be posting some pictures soon. You wouldn’t believe how much snow has fallen in Sugar Pine and Mi Wuk. It must have been pretty ugly up that way before the plows and the sunshine came through. All in all, it’s a beautiful day, in spite of the cold weather. It’s 37 degrees at the house right now — outside.  Inside, well, my office is a balmy 58 degrees, but this morning it was 45, I decided to skip the update until now. I’m sure you can relate.

Stay warm folks!

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Electrical Outage Continues

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Posted by Annie in Outdoors, Twain Harte News on November 25, 2010

It’s been an exhausting few days. The first day without power wasn’t too bad, we relaxed together as a family, putting together Lego’s without much concern at all. The longer the outage continued though, the more we were forced to deal with the reality of living without electricity.

The Twain Harte Post Office lot

Faced with losing our winter meat supply, freezing temperatures and hunger pains, we were resigned to solving problems we had never faced before. For starters this was the longest outage of our experience.

The freezer held up pretty well. We chose well — a 9 cubic foot chest, which is kept mostly full, which will help hold the cold longer. After two-full-days without power, the frozen foods were still frozen.

The refrigerator was a different story all together. We all know that it is important to keep the door closed, so I put our cold beverages outside in the snow. Not knowing exactly how long we were going to be without power, and knowing we have mountain lions and black bears in the area, we had to balance the need to keep our food cold, with keeping it away from the wildlife.

We opted to pack a few heavyduty gallon size, Ziplock Baggies with snow and insert those into the fridge — it worked to keep the temperature from climbing — overnight.

Equipped with a borrowed 2,000 watt generator, we were able to keep the house warm by powering the blower to our pellet stove, one light, the television, the DSL modem and the Wii (which gave us access to Netflix and movies). After all, entertainment is important too. The 2,000 watt Sportsman Generator is terrific for an emergency. The tank holds just 1.5 gallons of gasoline, which will last 9-hours on a 50% load — very economical but not very practical for an extended outage.

The problem is a generator of that size won’t power large appliances, like the fridge, microwave, freezer, hot plate, or computer. Since we work from home, we realized rather quickly that we needed a larger generator. We had to be able to keep our business a float during the outage, at least on an emergency basis.

Many people choose to install a generator large enough to power pretty much the entire house, and experience as little inconvenience as possible. The problem is, whole house generators can be costly to operate. After speaking with one couple, with a home wired generator, we decided this was not the route for us. They had emptied a 250 gallon propane tank in just three-days. Can you say OUCH!

With this in mind, we opted for a 5,500 watt Honeywell Generator. This model runs on gasoline, the tanks holds 6.5 gallons, which will last 11-hours on a 50% load. We purchased four 5-gallon gas cans, which means we could go 3-full-days without making a gasoline run. In our experience this was doable and more importantly, it was practical in our situation.

We are able to power the freezer, the refridgerator, the pellet stove, telephone, television, microwave or hot plate, a light or two and a few other incidentals. The trick is to know your appliance wattages and keep track of the load. Keeping in mind that anything over a 50% load (roughly 2,750 watts) will increase the fuel consumption and increase costs. We have been getting about 12-hours to a tank of fuel.

We also purchased a couple of 12-gauge extension cords of various lengths. It is important not to use more extention cord length than is actually needed to reduce friction which can degrade the electrical output of the generator. While a 16-guage cord probably would have been sufficient, we are safety minded and running electrical cords is a fire hazard, so care must be taken when attempting to power your home.

For the first few days, I was heating water for drinks and dishes on a burner attached to our grill — outside in the cold. I only dumped one full pan of water on the floor. I’m just glad it was cold water, not boiling water. With the addition of a two-burner hot plate, I was able to heat water in the house. We taught our son how to take a sponge bath properly — that was fun — something he had never before had to worry about.

An experience such as an extended power outage can either wreck havoc on your home, turning your lives upside down or it can bring your family closer together. It really all depends on your state of mind and your ability to prioritize and keep your cool. I won’t lie, it is stressful. Advance preparation and planning can help to minimize stress levels and help everyone to know their job.

While it hasn’t been easy — in fact, we have fallen into bed each night between 10 and 11:00 p.m. each night, fully-exhausted from all the extra work, but it’s been rewarding as well.

I have been making regular calls to PG&E, heck we are almost on a first-name basis with the operators. It didn’t seem to impress anyone at PG&E that I thought I should have electricity on my 50th birthday. Go figure. I have managed to locate PG&E’s outage map on their website, but it didn’t help too much, since I didn’t know our “Outage Number”.

So, I called PG&E again to get our Outage Number (ours is #172165), of course they have our outage as beginning today at 4:01 p.m. Their automated system actually called us, to inform us that our power had been restored today at that time, which it had not. I am so glad I called them back to notify them that we were still without power, though it doesn’t seem to have done much good.

I’ve been providing short updates through-out the day on the Twain Harte Times facebook page.

Time for bed, I’ll post more updates as they become available. Right now the sky is clear but the air is COLD.

Stay Warm!

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