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SLO County power shutoff was triggered by falling branch

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Posted at 6:35 AM, Jun 09, 2022

More details have emerged about an outage that left thousands without power in San Luis Obispo County.

Wednesday morning's outage impacted more than 3,500 customers in Shell Beach, Avila Beach, and areas along Highway 101 all the way to San Luis Obispo.

"Today's outage was just unannounced to anyone, the businesses as well as the neighbors that are surrounding Avila," said Sara Loaiza, owner of Casa San Miguelito.

The sudden power outage proved to be a major disruption for some businesses in and around Avila Beach.

"We have to keep the product alive-- we have crab, we have live fish, we have tanks that are running," said Shaun Corrales, Owner of the Harford Seafood Company.

He adds that it takes about two hours before fresh seafood starts to spoil.

"The impact is that we're carrying live product and when the power goes down, it becomes a scramble to pull generators out and make sure that we can keep our product alive," said Corrales.

The outage also took the owner of a local bed and breakfast off guard.

"We're running a business--thank goodness our cleaning crew came yesterday," said Loaiza. "Had they come today, it would have been a difficult position for a business owner like myself to be put in."

The outage was the result of new technology aimed at preventing fire starts from falling power lines. It's called Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings.

"The Advanced Safety Settings allow our powerlines to automatically turn off power within a tenth of a second and that can occur when a hazard like a tree branch makes contact with a power line," said PG&E Spokeswoman Suzanne Hosn.

According to PG&E, a branch fell across a power line, triggering the automatic shutoff.

Power was fully restored within two hours and no damage was reported, but some business owners were left frustrated by the disruption.

"The notice that we received via text was not in plain English, it was in jargon," said Loaiza. "Many of my neighbors didn't know what was happening."

PG&E says it is working to improve the new technology.

"We recognize that it is very disruptive to be without power," said Hosn. "That's why we're working to enhance the program so we can have shorter duration. We're also looking to minimize the impacts to our customers."

The owner of the Harford Seafood Market says he is glad that the outage happened late morning and that he didn't lose his fresh seafood.

"If it had happened at 7, and we weren't able to get down here in time, we probably would have lost anything," said Corrales.

As for the program, PG&E says it has reduced ignitions by 80 percent in high fire risk areas.

It's important to note that these outages are different than public safety power shutoffs, which are announced in advance during high wind events.