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‘Overload’ is blamed for Muirlands power outages, though exact cause and permanent fix are still sought

Power lines
(Rob Nikolewski / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego Gas & Electric says the culprit of a series of power outages in the Muirlands neighborhood of La Jolla over Labor Day weekend Sept. 3-5 — including one that lasted more than a day — was an “overload condition” caused by “higher-than-expected energy demand” on the circuit that supplies electricity to the area.

SDG&E said this week that it is still working to pinpoint the exact cause of the problem on the circuit known as La Jolla 3 and find a permanent fix. As a temporary measure, a portable generator was installed to get power to customers.

The utility said it is communicating directly with affected customers and will provide updates to them once a more permanent solution is determined.

Additional outages on different circuits affected the Mount Soledad area Sept. 5-6, according to SDG&E.

Power continued to be sporadic in parts of La Jolla after electricity was restored Sept. 5 for a total of 415 customers following a long outage in the midst of a heat wave that has put a strain on the electrical grid.

While residents across the region sweltered in late August and early September amid temperatures that reached triple digits in parts of San Diego County — raising the possibility of power outages as use of air conditioners surged and strained the electrical grid — people in the Muirlands area say they have faced sporadic blackouts for weeks recently.

California came within a hair’s breadth of experiencing rolling blackouts the night of Sept. 6, but as of 8 p.m., the system operator that manages the grid for about 80 percent of the Golden State continued to keep the lights on.

Resident Leila Armstrong said her power was out from the night of Sept. 3 to the morning of Sept. 5, prompting her to check into a hotel to get out of the heat. “To not have air conditioning during the heat wave was too much,” she said. “I worry for my elderly neighbors.”

When the outage began, “I went on the roof to see if all the lights were out, but it seemed to just be this area,” she said. She eventually had to throw out the food in her refrigerator and freezer.

Armstrong said she asked SDG&E for a modification to her electricity bill to offset the expenses of the hotel and her lost food, “but they said they couldn’t do that.”

Fellow Muirlands resident Sharon Jones said she wasn’t concerned about the outages until she experienced four over two days. She said she worries about “older people living in the community when it is hot and there is no power.”

“We don’t have air conditioning or an electric car, so the biggest impact on us has been loss of Wi-Fi and an inability to charge devices [laptops and phones],” Jones said. “The local library was closed Sunday, so we struggled to figure out where to find Wi-Fi for a scheduled [video call].”

For resident Melanie Ault, the struggle was not knowing when the power would be restored and how to proceed.

“Our power went out at 6 p.m. Saturday and did not come back for a sustained period until 11 p.m. Sunday,” she said. “We would have short periods where it would come on ... and then go out for a few hours. ... There are things you would do if you knew it would be a long-term outage, like getting your food into coolers, but we didn’t do any of that because we kept being told they would be short in duration.”

Ault said she also experienced an outage in July, before the most recent heat wave. “We can tell there is something that needs to be fixed but isn’t getting fixed,” she said.

According to SDG&E, power outages can occur for a variety of reasons, “including, but not limited to, emergency repairs for damaged equipment, routine maintenance for reliability, expanding the grid for future growth and preventing wildfires in prone conditions.”

“No matter the outage reason, it is SDG&E’s goal to restore power as quickly and safely as possible,” the company says.

The Muirlands blackouts came shortly after La Jolla’s Country Club area experienced a series of power outages — some lasting up to 19 hours — that affected more than 160 customers in mid-August. The culprit was 68 feet of faulty cable next to the Country Club, SDG&E said. The line was replaced.

When an outage happens, SDG&E recommends using a flashlight rather than a candle for light, turning off major appliances that were running when the power went out, and leaving one light turned on so residents can tell when the power is restored.

The company also recommends keeping emergency supplies on hand, including:

  • A flashlight with fresh batteries
  • A portable battery-powered radio to keep up with the news
  • A telephone that doesn’t depend on electricity
  • Easy-to-prepare, nonperishable foods, including packaged snacks and bottled water and juices
  • A wind-up or battery-operated clock
  • A first-aid kit
  • A manual can opener

SDG&E offers a notification system for updates about outages through sdge.com/myaccount, where customers can create an online account, click on the “Alerts and subscriptions” tab and select “Outage notifications” from the drop-down menu.

This month, the California Independent System Operator — which manages the state’s power grid — has had Flex Alerts in effect, seeking voluntary power conservation to reduce pressure on the grid.

The system operator issued the first Flex Alert on Aug. 31, urging residents to reduce electricity use from 4 to 9 p.m. Additional Flex Alerts have been issued each day since, up to and including Sept. 9.

During the alert periods, residents are urged to take power-saving steps such as:

  • Set thermostats to 78 degrees or higher
  • Avoid use of major appliances
  • Turn off unnecessary lights
  • Avoid charging electric vehicles
  • Close blinds and drapes to help keep interiors cool ◆