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Concerns about use of portable generators during PG&E emergency
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The specter that portable generators improperly used during a prolonged black-out emergency induced by PG&E could endanger people’s health was raised during the Manteca Planning Commission  meeting Tuesday.

Several commissions as well as members of the public brought up concerns about the gas powered generators during a discussion where they recommended that the City Council embrace new rules that would allow permanent whole house generators to be placed within the 5-foot setback of property lines.

 Commission members said they felt the city needs to address the issue. Whether that was through adopting restrictions on how they could be deployed, limiting the number a household could use or to simply having a robust education effort wasn’t made clear.

But it was clear there is a concern portable generators used improperly or placed in detrimental locations could create public health issues. Given most portable generators are fueled by gasoline or diesel, there is a concern about fumes as well as people placing them so they may send those fumes into the bedroom window of a neighbor’s home.

“It’s going to be the Wild, Wild West for power generation sales at Home Depot if we have a PG&E blackout,” noted resident Norman Hauser.

Hauser’s concerns centered primarily on portable generators and the fact many homes in Manteca are fairly close to each other.

“What I do to myself is my problem,” Hauser said in relation to noise and fumes. “What I do to neighbors is a serious concern.”

Hauser believes it would be wise for the city to have some rules in place that would give code enforcement officers and other authorities that may have to deal with the possibility of 2 to 5 day power outages the means to take steps needed to protect public health and safety.

Portable generators do not require city permits to use.

Suggestions that the city might want to restrict the permanent emergency generators’ fuel source to just natural gas was dropped after Commissioner Eric Hayes noted up until several months ago he lived in a home within the Manteca city limits that was not served by PG&E natural gas. Instead his family relied on propane.

The whole-house generators are connected to PG&E natural gas lines and wired directly into electrical panels that control PG&E power. The natural gas meter and electrical panel for most homes are in the side yards.

The recommended changes to city ordinances to make placement of permanent generators more effective for Manteca homeowners includes allowing the use of the generators whenever a power outage happens that is beyond the control of the homeowner. That means, for example, the generator can’t be used to “go off the grid” or even in the event PG&E cuts off power for failure to pay the bill.

The proposed rules would allow emergency generators within the 5-foot side yard setback providing they remain in factory installed sound proof encasement with 18 inches between the house as well as 18 inches from a fence. The setback is to avoid generated heat from becoming an issue as well as providing emergency access.

The whole house generators could not exceed 76 decibels at 23 feet — roughly the same noise a passenger car creates that is traveling at 65 mph at a point 25 feet away.  The current city rules place the allowable maximum noise levels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. in residential areas at 60 decibels and between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. at 50 decibels.

The proposed language chance in the city ordinance would allow for once-a-week self-testing by generators for a period not to exceed 30 minutes. Most permanent generators in test mode require 5 minutes or so.

More than 60 Manteca households are interested in installing whole house emergency generators that cost at least $3,000 to purchase and well over $1,000 to install so they won’t be at the mercy of PG&E’s wildfire liability solution to possibly cut off electricity for 2 to 5 days. The PG&E induced emergency — if and when it occurs — is designed to protect the for-profit from incurring liability if their equipment starts a wildfire. 

Even though Manteca and most of San Joaquin County that has been advised by PG&E to prepare to go up to 5 days without power is as much as 60 miles from high risk wildfire areas, the same transmission lines serving those areas also serve the local area.

The proposed wording changes go next to the City Council that has to approve them at two separate meetings. After the second vote to adopt them, the new rules would go into effect 30 days later.

Meanwhile, people can still get permits for the emergency generators if they do not place them within the 5-foot setback.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email