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Blackout Leaves Us Still Vulnerable
Friday, September 9, 2011
Turning on the radio is just fine, but don't do your laundry today. Power updates and your stories about San Diego's Big Blackout. We are asking listeners to join our conversation with your questions about the power outage and your stories. What are you telling your friends about the power outage? How prepared were you?
Guests: Mark Sauer, Senior Editor, KPBS News
Ed Joyce, Environment Reporter, KPBS News
Erin Coller, spokesperson, SDG&E
Amita Sharma, reporter, KPBS News
Nina Garin, entertainment reporter, San Diego Union Tribune
If you have a story that you would like to share on the air please call 1-888-895-5727 or tweet us @kpbsmidday.
Transcript DisclaimerThis is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
SAUER: If you don't need your air conditioner, appliances, don't use it, they're saying, if you do, 78 degrees or above. TV set, it's a good day not to watch TV. Of course you want to listen to the radio, but we don't need the TV if it's not absolutely necessary. Common sense stuff on major appliances.
CAVANAUGH: No washer and dryer either. Don't do the laundry today. Basically just cut back in all ways that you possibly can. One way that the city is inadvertently cut back is that schools are closed, lots of businesses are starting to get back up with full employees there. So we are in a sense lessening our demand on the grid.
SAUER: Right. It's still summer time. It's a great time to get outside, don't run those appliances, and keep the power down. Everybody work together. And there's been a lot of cooperation so far. Things like looting, things we wouldn't expect in San Diego, public safety issues over night were minimal. So people are cooperating, they're getting out, meeting their neighbors, and using it as an opportunity and turning, you know, lemons into lemonade. As the grid comes back up and this fragility exist, more cooperation is expected.
CAVANAUGH: And we're seeing the powers that be gather at the podium right now. San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders looks as if he's just about to speak, talking about the big blackout in San Diego.
NEW SPEAKER: Apparently we're having some audio difficulties. Are we going to stay with this or cut away and go -- we've heard, obviously from several people. We heard from the mayor last night.
CAVANAUGH: We will wait until there's some good sound there to bring to you from that SDG&E news conference that's going on now in Kearny Mesa. Let's try that again.
MAYOR SANDERS: -- on this so quickly. Things certainly could have been a lot worse if this would have gone on much longer. From the City of San Diego's perspective, we have a couple of updates. We're continuing to advise residents of certain areas of the city to use boiled tap water or bottled water for drinking and cooking purposes as a safety precaution. The affected areas include college area, college grove, La Jolla, west of interstate five, north of La Jolla park way, north city flour hill, Otay Mesa, Rancho Bernardo, San Carlos, Scripps Ranch, Tierra Santa, and Carmel mountain ranch. If you live in any of those areas, you request get nor details on the city's website or you can call a number, 5153525, and that's area code 619, to see if you live in those affected areas, we'll also continue to keep our website updated with information on the boiled water alert. As I mentioned last night, the outage caused two of our sewage pump stations to shut down. That in turn caused two spills. About 1.9 million gallons of sewage spilled into the PeÒasquitos lagoon after Pump Station 64 failed. Signs have been posted advising people to stay out of the water from the Scripps pier to Cardiff. That'll be in effect until we get two days of clear water there. And the city is working with the county to do the testing on this. And also pump station one failed causing about 100 and 25,000 gallons of sewage to flow into the Sweetwater channel. Signs have been posted no, sir that area, and we're continuing to monitor both of those areas. I also want to remind everybody that to continue conserving energy, and it's certainly a lot cooler today than it has been. We also need the energy conserved over the weekend so that we can make sure that all the systems are go. Finally, I just want to once again thank San Diegans thought the entire region. I talked to a lot of people on the walk I went on this morning, and they said signs of community were everywhere. People were checking on neighbors, people were outside talking with each other. I think it was one of those things that show people how important community is as they check on people that they know. Check on family. And once again, I think that San Diegans did a magnificent job of turning what could have been a real disaster into something that they all handled very well. And with that, I'm going to turn it over to chairman Bill Horn.
MAYOR SANDERS: Thank you, mayor. Well, thank you. I just want -- I was amazed yesterday that the cooperation just fell in place. I was chairman of the board on 911 and the county went into high gear mode right after that. Will we realized we were not prepared as we had been tested in our EOC emergency operation center. We have the fires, we have had an awful lot of drills. The good news here -- the bad news was the lights went out, but the good news is everything we prepared for worked like clockwork am we were up and operational right after the -- we discovered the county was off the grid. All of our emergency services, the City of San Diego, the county of San Diego, our sheriff's department, SDGE. The cooperation and the immediate conductivity of one another played well. Emergency services were up and running. And I can't say enough about the citizenry of the region, the county of San Diego. I thought their cooperation was -- each though they weren't part of the drill, it was fantastic. We had just basically a normal evening without the lights out, but at the same time they didn't watch much TV. But the cooperation in the communities, the various cities, the transit districts were updating us as often as they could about their trains, buses, what they were going to do. I just think the cooperation and the emergency movement was tremendous. And I want to thank everyone who is involved in that. It was more than just a drill. As we say in the Marine Corps, this was an actual. And it worked really well. And praise for the mayor and his entire staff, fire department, police department, SDG&E and their crews, they worked all night. And I'm sure Mike will come in and give you a more in depth report. But as I know, most everything went back on by three in the morning, and that's tremendous. I want to thank everyone and thank you guys for getting -- those who were on the radio disseminating the information, people want to know what is happening. And I think we did a very good job of disseminating what was happening. That keeps people calm and give it is them a clue. The cooperation we got with the school districts, just the fact that schools are closed, doctor ward made that decision last night early on. So parents would know exactly what to do. Of the mayor pointed out, we want you to continue to conserve as we try to make this settle out here. And at the same time, we want to thank everyone for their cooperation. So with that, I think -- who's next? I don't have a list. Javier?
MAYNARD: Good afternoon, I'm Javier Maynard, fire chief of the City of San Diego. I just wanted to echo the sentiments of mayor Sanders and supervisor horn. I've been in the fire service here for almost 32 years, and every time we have a challenge that arises to the community, the residents of San Diego County, San Diego City just step up in a remarkable way. And they did so, I believe, last night. The fire department certainly got busy for a period of time. As you might imagine, we were responding to a number of requests from people who were trapped in elevators. We were able to get those folks out. I want to thank those who were trapped, awaiting our response, our ability to open the elevators without creating much damage. I want to thank them for their patient. What I hear from crews is that people were in fairly good spirits, even given the delays. We saw an uptake in the number of medical calls. We added 13 ambulances in the city's fleet in response to that. Had a lot of folks that had heat related issues, either difficulty breathing or cardiac issues, fainting, and we dealt with all of that. I want to assure you that all the practicing that goes on, all the drilling and exercising, all the networking and communications that goes on among the multiple first responder agencies in this county across all professions really pays off in a time like this. It's nice 206 the individual relationships where you can call someone and you're on a first name basis to say I either need help or do you need help. So thank you very much. I'd like to new introduce assistant chief of police David Ramirez.
RAMIREZ: Thank you Javier. Good morning. As far as from the San Diego police department perspective, all our plans worked extremely well. Our generator systems that we have are our back up emergency systems that we have at police headquarters, and all of our nine area police stations throughout the city, they all worked well. So we were able to have power at all our police stations. We set up command posts at all our police stations throughout the city, including headquarters downtown San Diego. We were able to commune eight. We were able to set up and keep our 911 call systems operational through the whole power outage. We also set upon a community sited hot line that we received over 1300 phone calls from citizens, and basically the hot line, was staffed by volunteers, and we did have some officers staffing it as well, providing information to the community as what was happening, what advice we could give them as far as the boiling of the water, those things of things, so that all worked extremely if well, from the police department part of this, we can't thank the community enough. The patience of the community, the cooperativeness of the community was just unbelievable. We did not have any significant crime issues related to the outage last night. And everybody just worked extremely well. All the city departments, county, law enforcement, fire, public works, general services, everybody came together during this crisis. And it went extremely well. Thank you.
NIGGLI: I'm Mike Niggli, president of San Diego gas and electric. I want to thank San Diego. Thank you for your patient and cooperation during this very unusual event. First time in our history that we have had an entire system blackout. And everybody responded just phenomenally. We'd like to express our deepest appreciation to the city, the county, the fire services and the police services for everything they've done and the tremendous coordination and cooperation we have had. And I'd really like to thank our customers. Our customers have really heated the conservation message, turned off their air conditioners, turned off nonessential equipment, and that frankly helped us restore power more if quickly than we could have otherwise done so. So thank you, you helped us get the lights back on. We also had some very unusual events that occurred throughout San Diego during this period. A tip of the hat to the United States Navy. The United States Navy has many ships here in San Diego. Normally, they consume power from our grid. During this event, they fired up their generators on all of their ships and they started producing power, reducing the demand on our system, allowing other customers to come back sooner. So thank you to the United States Navy. We appreciate all of the efforts that even has taken during these last 24 hours. I'd like to suppress stress the importance, though, of our continued conservation today. Our system is still fragile, even though we have all of our customers back in service. Not all of our power plants are operation today. Some of them took a pretty tough hit when the lights went out yesterday, so we have a couple of them out, and the San Onofre plant has not returned to service. It'll be back probably in the next 24 to 48 hours. And we'll have everything stabilized. But it would help if everyone continues conservation, and putting your air conditioners up to at least 78 degrees wherever possible, and turning off all nonessential equipment. Of it's ironic that September is national emergency preparedness month. We hope that events like this just continue to show how all of us should be well prepared, have an emergency plan, and be prepared for any type of emergency that might happen here in San Diego. It seems over the last decade we have had plenty of practice, and San Diegans again continue to rise to the occasion and this is just a great place to be, and everyone play together for this event. I'd like to thank all of our employees who have been working tirelessly in this area. And the coordination that's gone on in the city and county. In the area of medical baseline customers, very important to us and the city and the county, we worked together to make sure they were all safe and had been contacted. Those we could not contact, we, the city, and county went out and knocked on doors to make sure they were safe and we want to pick sure we always have your contact information and we can know how to get ahold of you. Thank you so much for your cooperation and your patience. And again, thank you San Diego.
MAYOR SANDERS: Four years ago, we sent out a brochure from the county on disaster preparedness, and yesterday was not a drill. So if you still have that book the, why don't you look in your cupboards and see what you needed yesterday and you didn't have? Make sure we update our emergency services individually in your homes. We ask you to have three days' supply on hand. Not that we want them to request three days, but there's water, snacks, foods, batteries, the kinds of things that you need which you don't have power or you don't have water or whatever the disaster might be. But anyway, I want to thank San Diego once again. The city, SDG&E, every county employee, we appreciate the effort that was put in yesterday. And the citizenry of the county of San Diego. We just want you to know we want to thank you. You were as prepared as we were. Thank you.
NIGGLI: We do train for these kinds of situation, and whenever we look at the potential for the entire outage on a system, we general he think it could be a 2 or 3-day event when you look at a system going black. What you have to look at here is the interconnectedness nature of our grid throughout all of the western United States. Of we're connected from Canada through the U.S. and down into Mexico. When there's an event that occurs on any of the major transmission elements or on the grid itself, it reverberates throughout the system. So what we have here is an event on a very important transmission line, one that was carrying a lot of power between Arizona and California. And had an operator error, frankly, that occurred in Arizona. Once that happened, the transmission line disconnected, and the reverberations occurred, resorting iffy lower voltage in certain areas, and then of course the protections that the San Onofre plant had to dissect. From our perspective, there's still one element to take interest account. We want to find out exactly what happened with every single element in the system. So we'll be doing a join conversation with the California independent system operators. The Irrigation District, the Mexican utility, Arizona public service, Southern California Edison, and also the federal folks. We'll be looking at all the data very carefully to answer that kind of question.
In the areas where you lose power from Arizona -- where you lose power of north of San Diego County, are you prepare forward that possibility? The question I have is, if you're preparing for that possibility, and it happens, why wasn't there a better result?
NIGGLI: Actually, you cannot predict all of the events that might happen. So what you do is prepare for certain events that are related to certain elements being out of service. And that's what we prepared for. Everything else, you have to take on the fly, essentially. What we did is after the event occurred, we go into the restoration mode. What we're going to look at now is what happened, why did it happen, and can we do anything to further mitigate that? And frankly, since the event happened in Arizona, this is a region wide event that we'll be looking at am so we're gonna see cooperation from entities throughout the southwest.
In Arizona, saying that it's premature to say this is human error. They really don't know what happened. So why the discrepancy?
NIGGLI: I've talked to the CEO, president of Arizona public service, they did say it was human error in terms of an operator that was working on a substation in north heela as the initiating event that took the transmission line out.
Can you say what that error was?
NIGGLI: He was working on a capacitor, and a capacitor is a device that keeps the voltage level high on the transmission system. We don't know exactly what happened that caused the short circuit that took the element out. But apparently there was a short circuit, took the transmission line out causing the power flows in the system to have to redistribute throughout the western United States.
But again, there should have been back up protections in place. ?
NIGGLI: That's what we're looking on the now, in terms of how can we insure that doesn't happen again, and what actually happened here. There's going to be mounds of data that we're going through to look at exactly what happened throughout the grid in the western United States.
Wasn't there an event just over a year ago on a much lesser scale from which you could have drawn lessons?
NIGGLI: They don't translate very well. And if you think about the major events that have happened in the eastern United States, there was one that started in Ohio that actually took out power in about seven states and several provinces in Canada, far bigger than this event. Although we think of this as a big event in San Diego, and it certainly was for our company of it was by no means as big as what happened in at this time east where 40 or first mill job people are impacted. And that started with I tree branch going onto a line causing power flows again to have to redistribute. And a very large outage. So these are the kinds of events we try to make sure we're protecting against. Can't be perfect in this area. But we try to get better every single event.
A critic, he says it's far too convenient to point the if I were at Arizona. It's impossible that one person created all this. Something locally had to have gone wrong. How do you respond to that criticism?
NIGGLI: What I would say is that is that the initiating event, we all know what that was. The question now becomes how did that ripple throughout the rest of the system that's what's going to be part of investigation that all of us will do jointly to examine that issue for the power grid in the Southwestern United States.
How does a short circuit in Arizona cause a nuclear reactor at San Onofre to shut down?
NIGGLI: If you think about it, if everything is working perfectly on the power system throughout the western United States , it's like a lake aircraft pond that is nice and smooth. When somebody throws a rock in there, it causes ripples, depending on how big that rock is, those ripples are going to affect everybody that's in that pond. We're all in the same pond. What happen first degree this particular event is that the line went out, there was large flows between Arizona and California, this happens every day, we have a grid that really works well together. So they redistributed. But it all the result indeed some low voltages that occurred in parts of the system. And one of the parts of the system that had a resulting low voltage was at insofar. So that plant acted to protect itself by taking itself off line.
Somehow Edison's territory, that should be insulated from this event - so obviously there aren't firewalls in place. How come we didn't get a firewall coming over from Arizona?
NIGGLI: They were fortunate that the grid separated at the power plant south, and that they were essentially north of that demarcation point. So Edison had a few customers that were impacted but not a large number. Everything that was interconnected in San Diego, south Orange County, Mexico, Imperial Valley and Yuma all got impacted. If you think about it, it was a disturbance that probably stretched about 200 miles east to west and then probably 70 or 80 miles north to south. So a fairly big on a geographic scale, not big compared to those that occurred in the east coast, but clearly one we're going to all pay attention to.
Is it just a question of where those interconnections are? It seems like we should have also -- to stop it --
NIGGLI: It depends on where the circuit breakers are that act to separate the system. And when you get events like this that are beyond design criteria, are the circuit breakers will react to the instantaneous currents and instant voltages on the system and they will do the separation.
We heard there were some places in the county that weren't affect bide power outages, is that true?
NIGGLI: I haven't found any yet. No one's called me and said my power was on the whole time. I wish I could find that. I think we had the entire system out, south Orange County down. Some people may have had some generators that came on. Some people have their own individual generators that they power up. So people could say, they've got their lights on over here. Also in the -- it was in the afternoon, there still was some solar power from some of the solar roof tops. Depending on if somebody had isolated their power, they might have had power to their home.
-- by shutting down the transmission line as you did there.
NIGGLI: No, this happens instantaneously. One of the things we all shared, we all felt the outage at exactly the same time. This is not something that we could react to that way as soon as everything went out. And that's one of the reasons why I think you probably all experienced of a difficulty when you started to call people. Because the phone systems were over loaded. Whenever you're having an emergency like this that affects so many people, everybody immediately gets on the phone. One of the things we, the city, and the county started doing is find alternate means to communi date with you all. This was the biggest twitter event we've ever had. We tweeted something like 100 and 23 times during the events, and we've never done that before. We had to find ways to get information out to our customers, mail was working, particulars were working, but clearly for a while, the phones were difficult. That was a critical period because everybody was wanting to know what was going on as well.
What are the backups or safeguards work for a situation like this?
NIGGLI: The safe burdens, generally speak, the system operates so that it sectionalizes itself out. Wherever you have a problem and you're starting to see the reverberations in that area, it will act to protect itself by sectionalizing areas. Sometimes you sectionalize small areas, sometimes it's larger areas, and those circuit breakers had not operated at insofar to separate our system from Edison, you would have seen other parts of the system also involved in this. It would have spread. So the automated equipment is designed to try to minimize the impact and. Sometimes in a big outage, you say it didn't minimize it. If you think about it, it could have been bigger had they not operated properly in that kind of an event.
Can you elaborate on how the Navy ship it is helped out?
NIGGLI: We can't tell you the number of ships and the amount of megawatts. That's classified. But I will tell you that the Navy itself had lots of ships in port. And normally they consume power from us, they fired up their generators to many, many ship it is and started producing power for their own needs. And that allowed us then to use that power that was serving them to bring other customers back online that this is not the FOR THE time they've done that. They did that for us in the 19 -- in the 2007 wildfires. Of the Navy did the same thing. Great partners with us. And also the Mexican electric system in 2007 sent power north. So we work in a very cooperative manner in trying to restore power and insure that the events are limited.
This could be a question for the mayor, possibly. Do you have any concerns about how long if took you to get out downtown? There were a lot of people who were really frustrated, packed town there. Were you satisfied with that?
MAYOR SANDERS: There are some things you can't plan for. Our officers got out and directed traffic onto the freeways as quickly as they could. Actually, we came out to the county EOC about 445. And we actually made it fairly rapidly because people were very calm at every intersection that I saw. People were observing four-way stops even though there was no traffic signals. And people on the freeway were very polite yesterday. It was a little unusual sometimes. I was very satisfied with the way people got out of downtown, when you think of how many people were concentrated there. Thank you we're available for one-on-ones.
CAVANAUGH: You have been listening live to a news conference of SDG&E news conference. A number of people spoke at that news conference, including San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders, Bill Horn, chairman of the county board of supervisors. And the main themes that all of the speakers went back to again and again is thank you San Diego. Keep conserving. And there will be an investigation getting under way to find out the details of what went wrong when everything went dark yesterday here in San Diego. This is special coverage about San Diego's big blackout here on KPBS. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. With me is KPBS senior news editor, mark sour. Our environment reporter, Ed Joyce, and KPBS investigative reporter, Amita Sharma. Mark, what did we learn in this news conference?
SAUER: We as journalists learned we've got a lot of work of us. Why did this really happen? SDG&E's president got some of those questions today. I think they did expect a lot of hard questions from us journalists ahead. We're not experts. We have access to experts. We will be consulting with them and see what the story is. We have had wildfires in the past. They referenced the blackouts in the east. We have had brownouts and rolling brown outs in California. Some of the common sense questions is if you can isolate certain areas, why does it get so widespread? What can be done in the future? We've got a lot of work to do.
CAVANAUGH: And I want to welcome our listeners to join this conversation. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. You've heard the news conference too. Call us now with your question or your comment. Ed Joyce, there were a lot of questions during this news conference about how an error in Arizona actually caused this massive regional blackout. What was said and what do we know?
JOYCE: They basically are attributing it to this single Arizona public service company worker who was making a routine repair in Yuma Arizona about 330 yesterday, and apparently it caused the whole system to crash. Reporters as you heard youthful, last night, at the news conference with the president of SDG&E, and asking that same question, how could one person cause so much? We have some answers possibly when the investigation is done, and they found out that there's more to it than just one public worker caused the system to collapse. But the system is designed to protect itself but it failed. We spoke with Murray Jennex, who works as a consultant with the nuclear power industry, worked at song's insofar for 20 years, he says the source of San Diego County's power comes from three sources. The eastern transmission lines, and local generation. He explains what happened when the electrical worker remove aid piece of power equipment at that substation yesterday.
NIGGLI: It managed to cause his line to disrupt. And when it drops or failed, it caused the a low voltage situation in San Diego. Well, low voltage, when it crossed the county over the network, and affected insofar on the power transmission side and caused.
Every to trip offline or fail, and that's when we lost two sources of energy, and that meant that the third one just couldn't handle the load, and the system collapsed.
JOYCE: And that's Murray Jennex, we asked him, , how could one person cause the whole system to fail and he didn't have within answer for that.
NIGGLI: How he did, I'm not sure. Insofar reacted the way it was suppose supposed to. Am under voltage, it has to protect the nuclear reactor and keep the other equipment from being damaged. So it did what it was supposed to. Upon but my concern is that the network between the eastern transmission substation and northern transmission substation somewhere in that network should have reacted. And isolated and prevented that other voltage from transmitting across the Cohen.
JOYCE: And that's one thing reporters were asking the president, Mike Niggli, and there's no answers for that yet.
CAVANAUGH: We have a caller. I don't believe we can take him on the line right now. But he's asking what over sight will there be when insofar starts back up?
SAUER: They have a whole safety system in place, and there's a shut down procedure and a restart procedure. They wait till they get word from the California independent system operator which operate the state electrical power grid when they're able to handle that load that they can produce, and then they will restart and be back online. They're in a shut down mode right nu. There's no -- the Song spokesperson says there's no threat to public safety or anything else at this time.
CAVANAUGH: You know, as the people in the news conference took questions, I think Mr. Niggli himself -- our reporter, Eric Anderson, asked -- you've done tests in areas about this. You've practiced what might happen along this grid. Have you never practiced this particular scenario? Mark, what was the answer?
SAUER: Well, it gets back to the common sense here. If you can isolate it in certain areas and keep obviously a minimal amount of folks going down instead of this whole regional blackout, that's the question. And the bottom line question is why didn't that happen here? And I don't think we drilled down very far. They're promising investigations. Again, we have had these events before. This isn't our first experience here or elsewhere in the county. So it does boggle the mind as a resident and someone trying to apply common sense to this situation, which could have gotten far more tragic that happen it did and lasted longer than it did. Why in the world at this point haven't we had more protections to keep this from getting so widespread?
CAVANAUGH: Again, this is KPBS special coverage about San Diego's big blackout. And we are taking your callings at 1-888-895-5727. If you've got questions about this blackout, what might have caused it or if you have stories to tell us about where you were when the power went out. We'd like to hear them. That's 1-888-895-5727. On the line with us right now is Craig rose. He's a freelance journalist, conferred SDG&E and power issues in California for the Union Tribune for many years.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: I'd like to get your reaction.
NEW SPEAKER: Like everyone else, there are a lot of good questions as to how an easily anticipated event caused this widespread blackout. SDG&E is tasked with, is responsible for maintaining safe and reliable power. And certainly when you -- if you put yourself in their position, one of the situations they have to occur consider is the loss of a power line and how the loss of a single power line, which I know they prepare for, how that cascaded through the whole system, is a real question for them and it's also a question for the independent system operator, by the way, which is tasked with managing the state grid. Neither of these, by the way, are public institutions. They're both private entities of sorts. And so those are the questions on the table. That's the big question on the table. It's also curious that while SDG&E was unable to manage the outage of the line, that the public entities appeared to respond just fine in the situation. The fire department, the police department, even the United States U.S. Navy were able to gear up and put their emergency plans in place and operate nearly without a blip it seems.
SAUER: Craig, you did some stories about the wildfires a few years ago, tell us about what happened there when there was an order that went out to keep California from going down in case San Diego went black and cascaded. The walk us through that situation and as comparable to what may have helped here.
NEW SPEAKER: Transmission systems are really complex. I don't claim to be an expert. What happened in 2007 was that there were real questions raised about how the grid was managed in Southern California. And there were questions rayed about whether or not San Diego was prepared to manage the local grid on its own. The grid is like a citizen, and the conductor these days is the independent citizen operator in Folsom California. . However there are situations, emergencies in which San Diego might become an island. Meaning the San Diego electrical grid might be separated from the rest of the state grid. If and when that happens, then SDG&E has to step up and be the symphony operator here in this the county. In 2007, there were questions raised about SDG&E's able to manage the grid on its own here. I don't know if they were ever resolved. This is also a utility that's much under pressure. I think their recent history has to be kept in mind here. They caused the 2007 fires because of failure to maintain a power line. SDG&E was also accused and I believe fined for obstructing the investigation into that fire investigation. So obviously we help we don't have a repeat of that situation this time around. The other issue that's interesting to me is the whole question of how we deal with our power systems. If it is impossible to safeguard these big centralized grids, does that not raise the question about the need for more distributed electric generation, meaning having lots of little generating plants on everyone's roof that do not require lots of solar systems in everyone's roof and other systems that do not require reliance on this big, centralized powers that do require what's apparently become a very vulnerable grid.
SHARMA: Hi, Greg. So one of the key words that you used was public. You said neither SDG&E nor the California independent system operator are public entities. So when there is an investigation into what happened here, what went wrong here, how much stock are we supposed to put into these investigations?
NEW SPEAKER: We're in a difficult situation. Because I assume one of the leads'll be taken by the California public utilities commission, which is supposed to protect our interests with utility matters. The California public utilities commission has just got a big slap on its wrist for its handling of the SDG&E gas explosion situation where their over sight was considered inadequate. So we have to hope and insure that the public utilities commission and Governor Brown who makes appointments to the commission insures that we have a rigorous investigation of what happened here and all safeguards so they can avoid a repeat of the process. So the over sight will come at least partly from the California public utilities commission, and I'm assuming federal authorities will also play a role.
CAVANAUGH: Craig, can you stay with the line with us for just a moment? I want to get to some of the people who are calling us to tell us their reaction to this big blackout, and what it was like in their community. 1-888-895-5727. Mike is calling us from PB. Hi Mike.
NEW SPEAKER: How you doing?
CAVANAUGH: Just great. What went on in your neighborhood?
NEW SPEAKER: I own a 7/11 down here in PB, and I was astounded by how polite the people were during this situation. I would only let two in the store at a time, basically these folks policed themselves in the line, two would go out, only two would come in. And it was unbelievable how nice, calm, and cooperative they were. I was absolutely astounded. I thought I'd have a mob.
CAVANAUGH: And so I'm wondering, though, when did you get up and running? Did you just shut down for the day?
NEW SPEAKER: I shut down as soon as it got so dark in the store that it wasn't safe for anybody to really be in there. So that was roughly 730, 8:00. We were up and running by 230 in the morning. The power came on around ten I have been 52. And we were up and going around 2, 230. And had minimal losses. Folks would look at a cooler door and they wouldn't just open it and stand there , they'd actually look, see what they wanted, open quickly and grab it, and I was just -- I don't know I'm just blown away.
CAVANAUGH: I appreciate it. Thank you for calling us and telling us your story. Greg is calling us from Oceanside and thank you for calling.
NEW SPEAKER: Good afternoon. Interesting show. I'm curious as to what kind of scenario would affect the water supply in San Diego County as far as the pumping stations, especially the ones pumping across I believe that hatch pee.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you, Greg. And I'm wondering if Craig or Ed might want to take that question.
JOYCE: Well, essentially those pumping stations need electricity, if they shut down, it affects the water, and the pumping and the circulation of water.
I have nothing beyond that aside from a question, why dent they have back up generation, and are they good candidates for having solar facilities and some other kind of director generation on their site which would provide 134 back up?
CAVANAUGH: And just a mention here that there are some communities in San Diego under a mandatory boil water order. They are Otay Mesa, college, San Carlos, flour hill mall, Scripps Ranch, La Jolla, Mount Soledad, Tierra Santa and Scripps Ranch. I think I said that. I believe that order is supposed to be rescinded tomorrow. It may be rescinded sooner. You can go on the county website ownership the city website and get up-to-date on that. Amita, I want to ask you specifically because we heard from all of the people who spoke at this news conference, most especially county board of supervisor Bill Horn about counties got up and operational with their emergency services. And I'm wondering if -- I know there was some question about that, that there seemed to be some lag time between the power outage Tuesday and when we were hearing any information on it. What have you found out about that?
SHARMA: There was some lag time. And we're sort of assessing everybody's performance here. I talked to the head of the San Diego County office of emergency services Ron lane. I first asked film how he thought the public did in this time of emergency, and here's what he said.
NEW SPEAKER: Clearly there's work to be done there. What a lot of people learned was just how much they are dependent on technology, things like charging their cellphones, and the minute their cellphone ran out of battery, they were dad in the water, and had no way of recharging it. We strongly advocate for example that every home have a noncordless phone, because with the power out, if all you had in your home was a cordless phone, that requires electricity, you had no land line service.
SHARMA: Now, I also asked Ron lane about why it took the -- his website so long to update San Diego county on what was going on. I know there was some concern in our news room that there weren't details of what was happening until about an hour into the power outage. And here's what he said.
NEW SPEAKER: It takes a little time when we don't control the information. If it's a wildfire or a type of emergency that is one that we're on the scene of and have the information and we know the status of it, then we're able to put that information immediately on our website. And we were very quick in getting social media and Facebook and twitter notifications out. But again, we were totally reliant on SDG&E initially to get information about what the full ramifications of the -- but again we were totally reliant on SDG&E initially to get information about what the full ramifications of the outage was.
CAVANAUGH: I would imagine Amita, that a lot of people -- what they're saying is, since SDG&E didn't give them any information they had nothing to say.
SHARMA: SDG&E told them, we've got a power outage. They knew that. It wasn't until about 45 minutes into it that they learned that it was probably going to take several hours to fix the problem. And that's when they started updating the website.
CAVANAUGH: I'm just curious. Do you know why is their main source of disseminating that information now? We're in a world of twitter and Facebook. What would their go-to means of transmission be?
SHARMA: They are on top of it. As he said, we may not have updated the website, but we were sending it is bits of information on Facebook and on twitter. Another thing that he said, when we control the information, we're able to get it out. And we think in terms of contacting other emergency personnel in the county, we did a great job. We've trained for this. We had back up generators. So we were able to continue to communicate via Internet. They also had police radios, they had -- they had satellite telephones and ham radio operators. So they were able to get information out to key people that they needed to contact, including those people who rely on machines for their health. People who rely on dialysis machines, people who rely on oxygen tanks. They were told as quickly as possible that, look, we think this is going to take several hours so you should probably get to the hospital.
CAVANAUGH: Mark sour?
SAUER: It was one of those situations where we all rely on power. You're sitting here on a sunny afternoon and working away, and planning our newscast, and all of a sudden, boom, if goes down. And it's still sunny and you still have natural light. And then slowly you realize that it's going to get dark. We all realize that. And things can happen in the dark that don't happen in the light. We've got reporters out. We couldn't get on the air for a time. So we did a very unusual thing. We hooked up with KOGO radio. And if you were listening and had a battery operator or in your car, you may have heard KPBS reporters on KOGO doing their usual fine reports. We got back online last night. The lines were lit up, and we used many of those fine reports last night and again this morning. But for a while, we were an electronic newspaper, we were able to get onto our website. Jose Luis Jimenez, shout out to Tim, he did a great job doing write-throughs on the website. Ed Joyce sitting here with us did another fabulous job. All of our staff came through. Angela Corone, and all of these folks were in the field and reporting and getting the word out best we could until we were back up upon we were talking to the BBC over seas. And it's a worldwide story when this big swath of Southern California goes down.
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS special news coverage about San Diego's big blackout. We're welcoming your stories at 1-888-895-5727. You just heard how it was in the KPBS news room. We want to hear what it was like for you. Right now on the line, we have Nina garret. She's a reporter with the San Diego Union Tribune. And she had a harrowing experience during the blackout. You're a project guest on our show.
SHARMA: Nina, hello.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us where you were when the power went out.
NEW SPEAKER: I was walking my daughter home from school. And we got into the elevator. And then right before we got to the top, the lights went off. And we got stuck. So it got really, really dark in there, and my daughters are 5 and 3. And it was pretty scary. And thank goodness I had an iPad. Because that pretty much served as our light and our entertainment.
SAUER: $500 flashlight. That's great.
NEW SPEAKER: Very expensive flashlight.
CAVANAUGH: How long were you there in the elevator in.
NEW SPEAKER: We were there for about two hours. And I didn't -- I live in an older building. So I didn't even know there was a power outage. I just thought the elevator was down. But I couldn't get through to anybody. And finally, I was able to call my husband and he called 911. And it was two hours because neighbors actually were alerted, and they got crowbars and got us out of there.
SAUER: How did you keep the kids calm and what did they think when the crowbars started laying in there?
NEW SPEAKER: The kids were screaming a little bit. Then we kind of just sat and looked at the iPad, looked at some family photos. When the crowbars came through. It was actually a relief. Because we were able to open the inside door of the elevator and get some extra air. It was really hot and stuffy. So we got a little extra light and air. And they could hear their dad's voice through the other side. So the crowbars were actually good.
CAVANAUGH: Nina, thank you for sharing your story. We're taking your calls. Tell us where you were and what you did, and what you learned after the big blackout here in San Diego. 1-888-895-5727. Rose is calling us from Santee. Hi rose.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi.
CAVANAUGH: Well, where were you?
NEW SPEAKER: I was at work yesterday when this happened. And I was at UCSD medical center in Hillcrest. And it was a little startling when the lights went down. But only for just a few seconds before the generators kicked in. We had some , you know, visitors there that were in the hallways when they went -- and they were a little nervous, a little nervous about that. But the lights came up just about immediately. And everything went very smoothly. I was very pleased with how that went. The emergency generators come on within seconds. And this was nobody that was at risk or even had any sort of adverse effects from the power outage.
CAVANAUGH: Have you been through this before, with the power going off and the generators kicking in?
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, yes. With the fires, it's happened. And then with just -- I remember once many, many years ago, a local outage during a storm happened and the lights immediately come back up. And all the medical equipment works, the examining, the upon ventilators, everything. So I was very pleased with that.
CAVANAUGH: Well, rose, thank you for sharing that. That's going to be one of the scariest situations. I was thinking about that, can you imagine being in the hospital or being in surgery when the lights go out?
SAUER: Especially these days with robotic surgery and -- it's funny, my wife is a veterinarian, and we have a small practice without that kind of generation, and you're up to your elbows in a surgery, and it can be a real tricky thing. One of the things going to do today if the outage continued was just the whole question of refrigeration. And you take it for granted. We all take it for granted, especially in emergency situations like a hospital setting.
CAVANAUGH: Go ahead.
JOYCE: I just wanted to mention there's a lot of kids out of school. And we were mention with the sewage spills that closed, a lot of beaches from La Jolla north to Solana beach, the sewage spill they say it might be a couple of days before the beaches -- the sand's open, just don't go in the water. And the Silver Strand. And I got an e-mail from the birch aquarium, they are offering free admission for kids today until 5:00.
CAVANAUGH: I want to advise our listeners and guests that we are going language on this particular show. We will be going until 130 here on KPBS. Special coverage about San Diego's big blackout. We have lots of time to take your calls and hear your stories. 1-888-895-5727. I'm wondering -- we have in our discussion here been talking about this blackout in relationship to the fires. And the precautions we take when there's a wildfire in San Diego and we lose power: I'm wondering is that a fair comparison though, and maybe I'll go back to Craig rose on that. Is that a fair comparison Craig? New my I missed the first half of the question Maureen. But I wanted to raise one other point. At the beginning of the summer, they issued a forecast saying they wouldn't have any -- no issues were raised around that time, virtual. They said we'd be fine this summer. The other thing is that we've paid, and the state has ratepayers in the state an enormous amount of money for generation resource resources. And we're spending a lot of money on beefing up the grid. We're putting a lot of money into this existing model which requires mostly big central generating stations, and very costly transmission systems. We're not putting as much money into a distributed model, meaning we'd have lots of little generating stations, meaning you would have a solar system on a residential roof or a big box store. We have some of those. But the San Diego region has been a real laggard in implementing those kind of things. And I think it's certainly worth rethinking the model, are the big iron model, the big project model versus a distributed model at this time. I'm going to have to go but thank you very much for the opportunity.
CAVANAUGH: I do appreciate your being on the line with us. And that is journalist Craig Rose, he covered SDG&E for the Union Tribune for many years. Let me pose that to you, Amita. The idea of the fires and this kind of an accident as we're being told in Arizona. Are they really two separate scenarios? Or is the linkage the idea of when does power get shut down and when do you stop a problem before it gets out of hand?
SHARMA: They are two separate scenarios. One is man-made, the other one is a natural disaster. However, the result is the same. And you know, you could argue that if we had had a fire, maybe we would have gotten the power on quicker. From a public perspective, we've got to be prepared whether it's a natural disaster or it is a system breakdown as what we had here. But the question then box what do the people who control our power system have to do? Mike NEW SPEAKER said in the press conference today that we train for these break downs in the system. And I think the intimation there is that they prepare for this. And our reporter Eric Anderson asked, well, if you train for this, really, then why did we have the outcome that we had? And then he said you can't predict all of the events that are going to occur when you have an emergency. But yet you can predict them. Because when there is a break down in the system like this, there are certain steps, there is a backup plan that kicks in, and one of those back up plans is to have selective blackouts throughout our system. And SDGE and E has done that in the past. Two years ago, there was a controlled blackout in south San Diego county because there was a similar situation. But SDG&E has shown that they can do that. Why that didn't happen yesterday, why it took so long to get that electricity back up, is confounding. And the second issue that you -- we haven't really discussed at this table, but does naturally come up is how fragile our system is. We've been talking about 911 a lot this week. And the threats to our way of life. Well, gosh, power is a big part of our way of life. My parents are Indian immigrants, and I equate blackouts with developing countries, with India. Whenever we went to go visit India, it was not unusual in the hundred and 15-degree weather to have blackouts. But you don't expect that here. It shows how vulnerable our system is here, how fragile our system is. The fact that our sewage pumping stations don't have back up generators, and we are now dealing with sewage in our lagoons and in order to boil water in some places, again, that is -- these are occurrences that you expect in developing countries. You do not expect them here.
CAVANAUGH: We have Ia caller on the line speaking to that point. Sean is calling from Northpark. Hello, Sean, thanks for joining us.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi. Yes, my problem with it, I was stung on the highway for about two hours. And I had no -- I had service from AT&T, and then after -- just as soon as I made my call to triple A, I had 0 service. And I was absolutely concerned that throughout the night I had no service, but my Verizon friends did. I came to find out later that some Verizon was out, some AT&T is out, and specific my towers, they don't have any back up. And some of the towers do. Apparently it's gas powered back up or whatever. But the point is, suddenly there was 0 service, I couldn't help myself or do anything. All I could do was sit all by myself on the side of the highway. And these guys just for a simple blackout, I couldn't communicate with anybody.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for the call. I don't think you were alone on that. I want to let our listeners know that this is special coverage on San Diego's big blackout here on KPBS f.m. San Diego. It's just about 1:00 in the afternoon. This program is going a little bit long so that we can take your calls and discuss more aspects of the big blackout. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. That's one thing that we'll have not talked about, are the problem in communicating with cellphones, with land lines. You couldn't get through on land lines.
SAUER: It's so funny, you tend to reach over for a phone, then you say that phone doesn't work. Then you say I'm getting low on my charge, I better plug it in. There's nowhere to plug it in. We had Kyla Calvert, one of our reporters work the long hours yesterday, pull her car over the curb onto the plaza and we were going to plug in a Jerry rigged power grid we had into her cigarette lighter, basically, to try and keep us going and keep our connection to the web, keep our cellphones and our twitter feeds. And it really did -- the whole idea of fragility certainly comes to mind because boy, in a minute, everything you thought and counted on and didn't think twice about is certainly not there.
CAVANAUGH: I just want to -- one thing that the fire Marshalls always say when they come on the program, in order to be prepared, you really need to have an out of state contact that everybody in the family calls and that call will get through, and then everybody can find out that they're okay. But boy oh, boy did we see that yesterday because it was hard getting through to anybody.
JOYCE: We got a twitter question from someone that follows at KPBS midday saying did the system fail the people or did the people or person fail the system?
CAVANAUGH: Well, that's --
SAUER: A philosophers are weighing in.
JOYCE: Exactly. Know. A know an investigation is under way.
SAUER: We'll check with Socrates on that wan.
CAVANAUGH: 1-888-895-5727 or you can comment on twitter at KPBS midday. Linda is on the line from Ramona. Welcome.
NEW SPEAKER: I just wanted to comment that this is more of the same from San Diego gas and electric.
NEW SPEAKER: It's the same story. They're going to whine, they're going to say, well, you know we didn't really think this sort of thing was going to happen. Pretty soon they'll be raising rates to solve sate for this. They have a responsibility to make sure that this sort of thing doesn't happen, that it doesn't cascade, and it doesn't knock out more than one entire county. This is the same thing after the wildfires, you know, even though it was directly their fault, they find ways to blame other people. They don't tell the truth. They said that they were replacing wooden power poles with steel ones. Haven't seen one yet. I live in Ramon ark we were hit very hard in the 2007 wildfires. And what I loved last night is during the press conferences, the SDG&E spokesman referred to this as a disturbance. It was a catastrophic failure. So they're trying to use words to down play the massive nature of this failure. It's the same thing that they're always presenting to us. I've already called my Congressman and requested --
CAVANAUGH: It sound as if you're wound up to do that, Linda. Thank you so much for the call. I appreciate if.
JOYCE: I also used the word event to describe this situation.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One thing, Amita, Craig rose made the point a little earlier this summer, SDG&E came out and said no problems this year. We're all set for anything that could happen. But is it really fair in your own personal life you sometimes say things and then some disaster you didn't foresee comes along. Does this fall under an unforeseen disaster scenario?
SHARMA: I don't think so. I don't think if does. And the reason I say that is again by Mike Niggli's own admission, they train for breakdowns in the system. Now, if you're telling me that they didn't train for a break down in one of two lines connecting San Diego County to the rest of the power grid, well, that's problematic. So I don't think it's unforeseen. They faced smaller blackouts than this, and they have been able to handle them. So no, yoke it's unfair to say that they should have known or should have been more prepare.
CAVANAUGH: We have Lori SaldaÒa on the line. Hello.
NEW SPEAKER: Good afternoon.
CAVANAUGH: What would you like to comment on?
NEW SPEAKER: I was teaching yesterday on campus at San Diego state when the power went out. And I wanted your listeners to know that just as the Navy produces power in back up situations like this so they can actually generate power, so can the university. So we actually had lights on until after the power went out for everyone else.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. So SDG -- I'm sorry, SDSU had lights on?
NEW SPEAKER: Oh, yes. San Diego state has the capacity to generate enough power for campus. Right now, the reason campus is closed is that they want to supplement the available power for the grid. So UCSD hasn't started classes yet but they have the same capability. In 2007 during the wildfires, when I was in the state legislature, we made sure that the campuses shut down their normal operations so that they would bolster our local grid when we were at risk of losing power from other sources.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much for that comment. We weren't aware of that. And frankly, we could have used some of that power yesterday.
SAUER: We did get it earlier than most folks. We were sitting here with our flashlights and beacons in the news room wondering where our power was gonna come from. Then all of a sudden around 915, 9:30, the lites did come back, and the computers came back up. And all of a sudden we were able to get up and get back on the air for a couple hours there. It was curious to all of us. And we didn't pretend in the darkness there to know the ins and outs of that power though you look across the streets and students were hanging off the balconies of the new apartment complexes and partying into the mornings but they were all dark there first yards away.
JOYCE: That speak's to Craig rose's point made earlier about having more local generation. And that's been a drum beat that many people have been sounding for years, especially when new electrical transmission lines are proposed in 2011, 2012. People are saying there's a lot of in generation power that's available, and we're not doing enough to create our own in-house power.
SAUER: You wonder about the wake up calls for both the system as Ed is talking about here and what can we learn and do, this is the massive stuff in the east, etc, flood, wildfire, that knock out power. But also for us as individuals, this is one of the stories we're going to work on in coming days, is the folks last night were saying you've all got your emergency kits at home, we've been telling you to have them am so be calm, go home, get out your emergency kits, well, human nature being what it is, how many of us have mother-in-law kits?
CAVANAUGH: How many of us have emergency kits. Right.
SAUER: And how many of us use them --
CAVANAUGH: Know where they are.
SAUER: Yeah! And use this event it say, hey, let's get one now. It's time.
JOYCE: I cranked up my Eton emergency radio from KPBS, and it's got a cellphone charger, a solar -- I can crank can to get power, and I can listen to the radio.
CAVANAUGH: Honest to goodness, that's the only thing I could find too.
SHARMA: There's one other element I would add to this. We are a accountable for what happens to us in emergencies, whether we're prepared or not. But the larger issue is who holds the people or the spirits responsible for break downs in the system like this? And what have I found in my more than dozen years of reporting and what you have found and what you have found, Ed, is that oftentimes there will be a know event like this, there will be an investigation, and pretty much the conclusions sit on a shelf somewhere collecting dust. And people don't really hear about them. If they hear about them, memories fade and they think oh, yeah, it was a black out, it happened, what? Six months ago? I'm busy with my life. And they don't really pursue it. If anything is going to change, people, citizens have to hold regulators accountable. Regulators are supposed to hold the power ump cans accountable. But the people have to hold the regulators accountability.
SAUER: We haven't heard anything from the PEC. Are they going to make an announcement? We'll get to the bottom of this? We'll watch for that in the days to come. But on this day after when with the lights back on, I haven't heard a thing from them.
SHARMA: No, and it's quite rare to hear a thing from the public utilities commission. You're hard pressed to get a comment from the commissioner on any situation, really, that affects power.
CAVANAUGH: And if I'm not mistaken, the PUC was just recently taken to task for its inability to prevent and monitor that terrible explosion that took place up in northern California right.
SHARMA: Right. In fact, the national transportation safety board called on the governor of California to look into whether the public utilities commission, the entity which is responsible for regulating California's power companies, is even capable of enforcing safety rules where pipelines are concerned. And you know, the governor of California didn't see it fit to respond to that call in a timely fashion.
CAVANAUGH: We are in special coverage of the San Diego big blackout upon we're taking your questions, your serious questions, your reminisces about where you were. 1-888-895-5727. Richard is on the line from San Diego. Hi Richard.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi. My question, we're talking about accountability here. And what I have not heard is anybody from KPBS talking about your accountability. Because when this happened, I happened to my confident news source, KPBS, and you guys were not on the air. And I'm asking myself, why don't you have back up generators? Why don't you guys have an ability to transmit during a time of crisis?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's a question a lot of us have been asking.
SAUER: It is. And we can't duck that question. You're absolutely right. We have to look at ourselves just as we're talking about with the utilities and the PUC, and everyone else at large here. We are looking at that situation. Upon we've encountered it in the past. Even though we are on the edge of this college campus and did come up way -- many hours before many other folks here in San Diego, and neighboring communities, we need to have that generation, and it's an internal discussion we're having today. And we can't put hip stick on a pig. We wish it weren't that way, and we'll get to it.
CAVANAUGH: As frustrated as some of our listeners might have been, it couldn't have been anywhere near as frustrated as we were in the news room, trying to assemble information that we knew the people who I relied on us need and not being able to get it out. It's one of the worst feelings, and on my behalf, I apologize if you turned to KPBS and we were off the air when you needed us. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727.
JOYCE: As Amita was talking about, are the public utilities commission, we have not seen any response from them or any e-mails or information issued, however, federal regulators are apparently going to investigate this outage. The regulatory commission says it will work with north American reliability cooperation to determine what caused the become out and how future problems can be prevented.
SAUER: A lot of the folks were asking, if one guy crossed a couple of wires at a station in Arizona, what about one terrorist with one bomb at a station some place and all of a sudden it's cascading through? We were talking about Craig rose's mention that all things were going to be swell this summer. If you take a group of lay folks and put them in a room and said, from a common sense standpoint, what should we do to prevent this whole cascading effect here? I think one of the first things that might be on just the average layperson's mind is geez, what happens if one little substation somewhere goes off and how do we keep that from blowing out the whole system? It does kind of boggle the mind.
JOYCE: And it begs questions of how the power grid is managed by the California independent system operator. And I know Amita has done a lot of stories about who are these people, and this quasi government organization, which is responsible for our electrical power system.
SHARMA: And a lot of them are from former industry. They're former industry executives who now lead the California independent system operator.
SAUER: We do have some stories lately about new members of the PUC. Some of critics and watch dogs of the industry, are they hopeful that some of these members may have turn aid new page and wee gotten rid of some of the -- crony is too strong a word, but some of the ineffective leaders on that board?
SHARMA: One of the new members is a former attorney with the consumer group in northern California. Of and I think people are pitting their hopes on him. But there are five members of the public utilities commission, and there are three new members. Two of the other ones, I believe are from industry. So it doesn't -- it's hard to tell where the vet are gonna fall.
CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know, this is special coverage from KPBS about San Diego's big blackout. With me, KPBS senior news editor, mark sour. KPBS investigative reporter, Amita Sharma, and KPBS environment reporter Ed Joyce. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Wee going to be continuing this discussion until 130. There's plenty of time for you to call and join us. 1-888-895-5727. Devin is on the line from Hillcrest. Hi, Devin.
NEW SPEAKER: How's it going?
CAVANAUGH: Just great.
NEW SPEAKER: I think you guys have already kind of touched on my point a little bit. I just moved here from the Seattle area. And I was just astonished at how unprepared the entirety of all of San Diego County appeared to be for any sort of power outage situation. Coming from Seattle, we see power outages all the time, which grant order are related to wind storms which you're not necessarily going to have here. But given that this is an earthquake prone area, I just couldn't believe that markets, gas stations, commercial buildings, and then to find out that utilities such as water/sewage have no back up generation capabilities was literally mind blowing. You guys have compared some of this situation to third world countries. That that would be normal, I suppose, to see that. Except I've spent time in Costa Rica, which is still a developing nation. And when their power goes down, their back up generators turn on. So I just found it appalling.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I appreciate the call, and I appreciate your honesty, Devin. And since you're from Seattle, I'm wondering what you're going to think about us when you see how we react to the first downpour we have. Stay off the roads is all I can say!
SAUER: It's cloudy. Panic.
CAVANAUGH: Kale is calling from San Diego. Hi kale.
NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, Devin do stay off the roads when the rainfalls. I took 22 kids camping yesterday for an over night trip, which is insane to begin with, and then the power outage happened, and we were the only people in IB that actually had lights because they had solar powered camps. And we had lights in our cabins, and they had generators and everything worked out well. It was really cool.
SAUER: Be prepared, the boy scouts say.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you, kale. Thank you for calling. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Let's talk solar from time to time, mark. Because we have been talking in the news room, and it's been in 19 news stories about what a proponent of solar energy San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders is. He really, really wants to see more solar power generated here in San Diego. So is this going to be another turning point for us?
SAUER: That's really an interesting question. It does seem to be a legacy issue with Jerry. We get the news releases all the time. Sometimes there's some massive solar going on in university campuses. It hymn seems like every time somebody puts solar lights into the walk way to light the bushes, Jerry is showing up and wants a camera there to note it. And that's terrific in terms of alternative energy. But the question becomes as Craig rose was pointing out, why are we still considered a lagger in that? And we have to applaud the mayor's efforts to alternative energy. I should note, and this is a story I'd like to revisit I did many clears ago, there happens to be a community in far east San Diego County, a slope going up toward Julian that's simply off the grid. The grid just never got to them and there's first or 60 hearty souls up there and long ago figured it out. I did a long magazine style lifestyle piece on these feedbacks and they use propane, and wind mills and of course solar. And they know precisely what every little device in the house draws and they meter it constantly. It almost becomes sport in their lives. And this is a very interesting story I'd like to pursue again here. You can survive even in 2011 on your way. You really don't need the grid. And these folks have proved that right here in San Diego County.
JOYCE: I lived for a time in the Caribbean, and I house sat a place, a friend, and her house was completely off the grid. Water included. She had a little wind generator, and she would collect the wind energy and solar and store that energy and use it at night. And she had a firm understanding of how much power was available, and how long she could use the computer, and it worked perfectly.
SHARMA: Ed, are there laws set up in this state to encourage that?
JOYCE: There are some incentives. But in terms of wind, that's another story all together. But in early its of solar, there's a lot of incentives that are out there. And the utility companies and agencies working with hand in hand with the utility companies and the state have been pushing those incentives out there it's not affordable for the average person. So they've created these incentives and there's loans and other moneys available. And people have to cost it out. Not every home is suitable for solar. And over time, you can get your money back.
CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line to this point. Mark is calling us from San Diego.
NEW SPEAKER: Yes, I had a question about local generation. If we had 100% local generation, would this have happened?
CAVANAUGH: 100%? I doubt that it could have happened since it came to us courtesy of Arizona.
JOYCE: I know there's somebody I talked to system who has a solar system, but because it's tied to their electric meter, they were out of luck.
SHARMA: And there was someone I spoke to today whose house was the only house on his -- in his neighborhood who had solar generation, he was the only house who had lights on.
SAUER: Some of the folks, of course a lot of people have solar, more are getting it all the time. Small businesses are getting it. But they're mostly connected to the grid. It's the rare one who actually has the massive investment in batteries, and you've got a stack of them in your garage, and your solar is feeding the bay radios, so if something like this happens you can draw down and be self sufficient. One problem here, when you set and pencil it out as a small business owner, if SDG&E who gets power from all sorts of sources would buy that power back instead of simply zeroing it out, you use your solar on a hot day, the sun is coming down, it's powering all your needs but you're in the banking that, not getting credit selling it back.
NEW SPEAKER: Can I make one more observation?
CAVANAUGH: Go ahead, Mark.
NEW SPEAKER: There's a little bit of honesty in that you've got your load and most people on the coast south of the 15 get -- there's been tremendous effort to shut down the power plant in Carlsbad. The Southbay has been essentially shut down. And so there's a turn that's come out, people trying to do infrastructure, if you're trying to put a wind project right on the edge of the county, it takes it 30 days to just measure wind in Imperial Valley. It takes 2 to 3 years in San Diego. San Diego is home to one of the largest concentrations of renewable developers in the world. Yet all those guys get on a plane Monday, somewhere else, and develop projects because San Diego is almost impossible to do infrastructure. So there's a little bit of dishonesty here.
CAVANAUGH: Let's get some reaction.
JOYCE: There are different views on renewable power and what's green energy. Somebody's renewable green wind power project is somebody else's headache in their backyard. You get that NIMBYism when you're talking about wind farms and sound and there's alleged health effects and things you can do to research and check what the claims are. But somebody's green project for some is not for somebody else. Someone in the east San Diego County objects to a wind farm serving the power needs of the people in the city at the expense of blighting their neighborhood.
SAUER: And let's face it. We have a very rich and powerful corporation that is behind the power in this particular area, and in most areas in this country. And there is -- we're green to a point. We're solar to a point. But we're talking about profits that are being jeopardized here. We have technology. And it's the will and the way.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Heme take a call. Pat is calling from the college area.
NEW SPEAKER: Hi. The aren't conversation just now, and Amita's points, there's a political movement right now to weaken government regulation. And combining that with lack of critical thinking or lack of the will to think critically, we have a mentality that after we have a shoe bomber, we all have to take off our shoes. Yesterday was many of us being close to 911 we're with no power, what if this is the one punch, and the two punch is some devastating act of terrorism where no one can respond? I don't think that people are anticipating what's responsible, and the regulators apparently aren't working. So I think I too have live indeed many developing countries where you hook up to the nearest generator at the hotel. And it's too bad if we all have to create our own power source because we can't trust a cooperative energy system.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call. And that is one thing that I want to get in before we end here. And that is the kind of things that we saw and heard a little bit about yesterday about how this might have been the result of terrorism. That's the kind of information that we always hope that officials will quell quickly. Do you think that was quelled?
SHARMA: Not at all. At least from where Is of. Because I couldn't get any news. I couldn't get it from television, I couldn't get it from our station. What I did get was from a neighbor who said that mayor Blum berg was about to hold a press conference saying that they had credible information that some people had slipped into the country that were driving a truck and aimed to do harm.
SAUER: That's right. That did come -- it was an unfortunate coincidence in our regard. And we had some reporters who got some interview it is yesterday where folks were coming down stairways in darkened buildings instead of obviously no elevators and that was primary on their mind exactly what the caller just said. And it did pair up with that. I would say those of us who did -- were connected and had access to the local news, that was -- that word got out pretty quickly that this is human error, it's a grid event it's not a terrorist event.
SHARMA: But it was the timing of all this. Of it's the week of 911, tenth anniversary, and all of a sudden you've got a massive blackout what are we supposed to make of that?
CAVANAUGH: A lot of the people I spoke with, that was something that came to mind. And it just -- I don't know, I think it speaks to how jittery one can get all of a sudden just like that, you know? Everything is going fine, and then the lights go out and it could be the end of the world for all you know.
SAUER: But in this instance we shouldn't be this fragile. And I -- like to take them at their word and hope they will do a thorough investigation and publicly reveal what happened here. Here's what we can do to fix it. And we can certainly prevent this sort of thing from happening again. And we've got to keep on them in the weeks to come.
JOYCE: Unfortunately we continue to need lessons about preparedness. If this was a major earthquake and the power was knocked out, were people ready? Do they have adequate water supplies? Medications set up? Something they can grab in the dark to be prepared for 2, 3, 4, 5 days or longer without supplies? I think this is a good wake up call for a lot of people who think they may be prepared but really they're not. And they're scrambling around in the dark trying to find something and they forgot where the.
CAVANAUGH: I want to tell everyone that we are going to continue our coverage of the big blackout here on KPBS through the afternoon and this evening on San Diego week on KPBS television. That's at 8:00 PM. I. Like to thank my guests. Senior news editor mark sour, and investigative reporter Amita Sharma, and, environment reporter Ed Joyce. Thanks so much for joinings us today.
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