By Deanna Contreras
BENICIA — It’s Thursday, Feb. 16 before the President’s Day holiday weekend and PG&E meteorologists were predicting more rain and wind. That meant PG&E’s North Bay, Sonoma and Humboldt divisions were staffing according to the company’s outage prediction models and getting ready to activate local emergency centers.
At a yard in Benicia PG&E’s partner, Aggreko, already prepped and loaded generators onto trailers just in case they’re needed to help restore power from the upcoming storm.
“We prepped what we call a six-pack, it’s 6 megawatts of power that can energize up to 2,500 homes, and we’ve pre-assembled it at our Benicia Service Center just for PG&E in case of an emergency event,” said Frank Pizzileo, business development manager for Aggreko.
“We also have something called the PowerPak that we designed specifically for PG&E that can get power directly on to the distribution lines and restore up to 300 residential customers quickly,” added Pizzileo.
By Friday (Feb. 17), the wind and rains had drenched the North Bay. Napa was particularly hit hard with more than 1,900 customers affected from two dozen outages. With the soil already saturated from January’s storms, North Bay crews knew trees would be the number one cause of outages.
“There are a lot of trees down on our lines in several different areas but the biggest thing impacting customers right now is a big redwood tree that came down on Soscol Ave just north of Lincoln,” Steve Frediani, electric crew foreman supervisor for Napa said at the time. “What’s been challenging is the large amount of outages in such a small area.”
Crews further north were also working at full speed making repairs and turning the lights back on safely and quickly as possible. By the weekend, and in order to cover the vast area of widespread outages, PG&E’s Humboldt Division split into two emergency centers: Humboldt Division north, based in Eureka and Humboldt Division south, based in Ft. Bragg. It’s a rare move that doesn’t happen often.
“We separated teams to reduce the span of control within the division given the forecasted category 4 weather impacts,” said Amanda Hans, incident commander for Humboldt north.
“The storm was forecasted to impact the entire division and with the current and forecasted road conditions, splitting the North and South not only enables us to focus our restoration strategy and communications, but also allows for alternatives in supporting our customers in the case where we are unable to move resources in and around the division,” she said.
In addition, PG&E requested Aggreko deploy two large-scale generation packages to the Humboldt Division: 7.2 megawatts of mobile generation in Willow Creek that could support 2,800 customers, if needed, and 5.4 megawatts of mobile generation in Hoopa that could support 2,242 customers.
By Sunday, and due to outages across our service territory, PG&E set up additional base camps in Scotts Valley, Fort Bragg and Santa Rosa to support the impacts of the storm and restoration. PG&E Santa Rosa employees worked with Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial to set up one base camp in order to host crews coming in from other energy companies to help with restoration efforts.
“With all the storms we’ve had, the amount of rain just keeps adding up. What’s different about this [last] storm is the mudslides and flooding,” said Mike Montiel, electric distribution supervisor for PG&E’s Sonoma Division. “There are certain areas where we know there will be flooding but the flooding usually recedes. This time the flooding isn’t receding. We have poles in six feet of water,” he said at the time of the storm.
By President’s Day evening the winds were really whipping. The holiday evening brought on the busiest time for the crews across all three divisions with an increased number of outages overnight and into Tuesday.
“It seems like we’ve been in storm mode for the past two months, so we were prepped and ready to roll. One thing about these storms is that we’re a well-oiled machine by now,” added Montiel.
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.