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Pole By Pole: All PG&E Power Back On. This Is What It Took

Bob Moffitt/Capital Public Radio
A PG&E crew in Auburn prepares to inspect lines and turn on power Oct. 11, 2019.

Pacific Gas and Electric announced late Saturday that it had restored power to the more than 738,000 customers it cut electricity to this week.

In case you think that someone at PG&E flips a switch somewhere and turns on the power for large populations of people, think again.

Before turning the power back on, crews must inspect each foot of power line that was de-energized. Lineman Aaron Rubio and Ben Boardway were working on Wise Road in Auburn Friday one pole, or section, at a time.

In six hours of work, they were able to restore power to about 300 customers.

"Right now, we have a helicopter that just flew the section that we're on right now and I'm just waiting for a phone call with permission to heat that section up," Rubio says. 

That means they will have to undo some of the work they did two days ago. 

Each power line has a small metal door on a hinge at the pole. When the door is closed, the circuit is complete and electricity flows.

When the order came down to cut power Wednesday, the two linemen opened the doors on these lines to break the circuit so electricity could not go through. 

Once they receive confirmation, they hoist a 40-foot-pole to shut the door. Boardway says it’s kind of a pain.

“If we can’t get it, we just climb the pole,” he says.

It takes about 90 seconds for Boardway to push the door into place. Then they find the nearest house and check to make sure the power's on.

"Power back on?" Rubio yells to resident Paul Montgomery as he emerges from his house.

“It is!” Montgomery replies.

“We were running out of water and everything's pumped,” Montgomery says. “I think it's a 1,600 gallon tank up there. But when that's gone there would have been no more water and we have animals up here that need the water. So, I'm glad it's back on."

But, he says it wasn’t all bad.

“Refrigerator's still cold. We had a fire in the fireplace last night. Kind of nice actually." 

He thanks Rubio and Boardway and they respond in kind as they walk down the road to get to their truck and move on to the next pole about a half-mile away. PG&E says 6,300 crews are out performing this task.

The utility says crews are required to keep a four-foot clearance around the lines and poles. Orders for tree trimming have gone out as helicopters have flown over and have reported blocked visibility. 

Rubio says they have encountered no limbs into power lines so far, but have found some underneath the lines. Because the limbs were from dead trees, he could not say how long the limbs had been there. PG&E says so far it's found 23 instances of weather-related damage to its system.

Copyright 2019 Capital Public Radio