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Frequent 'Fast Trip' Power Outages Spark Outrage Against PG&E In Town Of La Honda

LA HONDA (KPIX 5) – Amid worsening wildfires, it's becoming commonplace for there to be power shutoffs during times of high fire danger. In the mountain community of La Honda, residents are outraged at PG&E because they said the electricity is going off multiple times a week and for very little reason.

The power has been going out so frequently in the town that Devora Bratton and her husband Tom did like everyone else in their neighborhood and bought a generator.

"In the last week or so, it's been three times," said Devora. "And each time it's been out for a minimum of 24 hours."

The power was out again on Monday in the town of about 900 residents in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It's happening because PG&E increased the sensitivity of its automatic shut-off equipment, when objects touch a power line. Now, a small branch, even a squirrel, is enough to knock out power to the entire town.

La Honda PG&E Fast Trip Outage
A store in the town of La Honda during a power outage on September 27, 2021. (CBS)

"These devices have already been on our electric system," said PG&E Spokesperson Mayra Tostado, "but because we've seen that wildfire risk is increasing due to drought intensified conditions and extremely dry vegetation, we decided to take immediate action to address this risk."

Called the "fast trip" system, once it's been triggered, the entire length of the transmission line has to be visually inspected before it can be re-energized.

Neighbors are fed up.

"No, there's absolutely no reason for this," said resident John Rosenburg. "This happened during a rainstorm last weekend.  This has happened five times this month.  Every single weekend this has happened.  It takes from one to two days to get the power back on."

Monday's outage started Sunday afternoon and residents said they no longer believe the text alerts they get.

"They'll say, we plan to have power restored by such and such tonight," Devora told KPIX 5. "And then you'll get another one after that time saying, we plan to have it restored by noon tomorrow, and then it's not."

The situation is getting the attention of lawmakers, as well.

Recently, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-San Mateo County) wrote the utility that they need to be responsible for providing both safe and reliable electrical service.

To be fair, PG&E is in a no-win situation. They're held responsible if their power lines start a fire, but if they're too quick in shutting them down, people get angry for sending their communities back to the stone age.

For now, the utility is sticking with the fast trip system, but said they're working to "recalibrate" their equipment.

"We know that we need to make improvements. We're doing that," said PG&E's Tostado.  "We thank you for your patience and we want you to work with us so that we can keep you and communities safe and prevent a catastrophic wildfire."

Meanwhile, the residents don't have any patience left and said the best solution is for the lines to all be buried.

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