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Calistoga takes PG&E to task over power outages

PG&E generators

PG&E generators at the Calistoga substation as seen in 2019. 

The City of Calistoga had some harsh words for Pacific Gas and Electric on Tuesday, as officials met with representatives of the utility to problem-solve ongoing power outage issues.

City Manager Mike Kirn summed up the city’s frustration by saying “the community is exacerbated and at wit’s end” with ongoing maintenance, particularly with the area of town west of the river.

Over the past two years Calistoga has been subjected to numerous power outages that have lasted up to a week. Particularly hard hit is the west side of town, which does not receive power from temporary generators.

PG&E representative Mark Van Gorder acknowledged the community’s dissatisfaction with service from the company, which has been struggling with communication issues regarding PSPS events, and with Calistoga in particular, calling it “ground zero.”

“Calistoga is impacted more than any other area in our service area,” he acknowledged.

He also detailed how the recent wildfires have beleaguered the company’s efforts to maintain power to the town, and emphasized the company’s concern for safety.

City officials expressed gratitude for the recently installed generators, which cost PG&E about $4 million. At the same time, they are loud, they only power a portion of the town, and the city wants more communication regarding outages.

In no uncertain terms, Mayor Chris Canning let the company know the severe impact the power outages have had on the community.

“The biggest issue I have is not that we had to use generators, but the absolute lack of information from your communications group on a daily basis,” he said. “We understand what you have to do … but if you’re not telling us why, or for how long, or what the purpose is, that silence spoke volumes and put us as elected officials in a terrible position to have to do your bidding week after week after week. We’ve been through this for years.”

Vice-Mayor Michael Dunsford, who owns Calistoga Inn & Restaurant, pointed out the hardship on businesses that have to close during power outages that often happen without warning.

Councilmember Irais Lopez-Ortega brought up the issue of seniors who rely on medical devices, and the need to communicate in Spanish and English during outages.

Councilmembers Gary Kraus and Don Williams mentioned the noise the generators produce. Williams asked if sound barriers could be part of the solution, saying he has received “Heartbreaking emails coming from the public about constant noise.”

Although the town is now back on the grid, and the generators have been removed, Van Gorder was open to the issue of sound abatement, and greater outreach and communication.

“We’re here to listen. Safety is a top priority. We’re not surprised with dissatisfaction given factors including weather and the fires,” he said.

Van Gorder also addressed the question of a transmission line connecting Calistoga to St. Helena. The issue is complicated but the bottom line is there is the ability to feed both directions, and there is a reliable source from the north and south.

Van Gorder, who used to live in Calistoga, said he understands the importance of working with the city including having regular meetings and taking advice from the community.

“We’re willing to commit to twice monthly meetings. Your community has been incredibly patient.”

WATCH NOW: CALISTOGA MAYOR CHRIS CANNING DISCUSSES FULL CITY EVACUATION

Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning offers an update about Glass Fire following a citywide evacuation. Video by Barry Eberling/Napa Valley Register

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You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at 942-4035 or csweeney@weeklycalistogan.com.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.

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