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Los Altos neighborhood experiences spell of voltage problems, unknowns

Residents of the South Clark neighborhood, tucked between the Hillview enclave in Los Altos and the Varsity Park community in Mountain View, are breathing a sigh of relief as a string of brief power outages appears to be over.

From July 29 through Aug. 16, an estimated 200 households were affected by the blackouts – from the area of South Clark and El Monte avenues to Covington Road. In the 20-day period, residents reported approximately 76 blackouts, 13 low-voltage incidents and six electrical noise incidents (a consequence of poor power quality, PG&E’s website said), according to South Clark resident Chris Le Tocq.

Resident Ann Marie LaRocco Joel said there was no apparent pattern to the blackouts and dips in voltage – they occurred on mild- and severe-weather days, during the week and on weekends. The majority took place at night.

Joel alleged that city and PG&E representatives failed to respond to residents’ inquiries during part of the 20-day period, prompting residents to speculate that the voltage problem was the result of either commercial construction tapping into a trunk line or too many electric car chargers tied to one substation.

Collateral damage

The root cause of the voltage failure – which had the potential to seriously damage electronics, appliances, air-conditioning units, medical equipment, solar accessories and “anything anyone needs to stay connected” – was not immediately clear, Le Tocq reported after finally interacting with PG&E representatives.

“For the last two weeks they have three trucks out locally, and a team of engineers working remotely to try and diagnose this,” Le Tocq said of PG&E in an email to the Town Crier Aug. 15.

While there was a chance the short lapses in power could have harmed residents’ property, PG&E issued a statement that did not address the potential dangers but offered a link to a claims page. The Town Crier obtained the statement through Los Altos city spokeswoman Erica Ray.

The statement urged those with appliances damaged as a result of the voltage problems to call PG&E’s Claims Department at (800) 743-5000 or access a claim form online at pge.com/en_US/residential/customer-service/help/claims/claims.page.

Watt’s the problem?

PG&E officials said in the same statement they received the initial calls from South Clark residents during the week of Aug. 5. The company dispatched “troublemen” to consult with residents who called in and perform tests on local equipment. As the call center received more and more reports of voltage fluctuations, PG&E sent additional workers and gear “to patrol lines, assess circuit voltage equipment, and performed additional system grid analysis to identify root cause,” the statement said.

The day prior to the last recorded low-electricity incident, the troublemen identified the cause as a problem with a local substation and “immediately made corrections,” according to PG&E officials.

Le Tocq verified the last power-related event in the area was recorded at approximately 4:47 p.m. Aug. 16. During the height of the outages, he said, Los Altos Mayor Lynette Lee Eng spoke with some residents in the neighborhood and assured them she was working with PG&E’s public affairs team and would organize a town hall meeting, if needed. Once PG&E released its statement addressing the electricity problems, there was no mention of a town hall, Le Tocq said.

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