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PG&E COSTING CITY AT LEAST $80K: Even if wildfire plan isn’t activated Manteca is incurring costs for backup generators; costs will skyrocket once power is cut


The Bulletin

PG&E’s bid to insulate itself against wildfire liability from their aging and unmaintained equipment promises to cost Manteca at least $80,000 even if the for-profit utility never cuts electricity to the city for 2 to 5 days as they have indicated they might do.

That’s because Manteca has 15 sewer lift stations of which only four have emergency generators to power pumps plus the fact the city will need to buy a generator large enough to run the Manteca Senior Center air conditioning in the event it is needed to become a shelter for those dependent on electrically powered medical devices or the infirm that are susceptible to heat-related illness.

The Manteca City Council this past week approved a request from staff to spend $40,000 for a portable emergency generator to power the lift station pumps. Staff is still trying to secure a generator for the senior center that could cost as much or more than the portable generator for the lift station.

Out of concern one additional portable generator may not be enough for the lift stations, council authorized staff to spend up to $80,000 if they determined a second generator was needed.

It would cost the city in excess of $500,000 to place emergency generators at the 11 lift stations that do not have back up power sources.

The city currently has one portable generator described as “aging” that is used when power goes out on the 11 lifts.

Most outages in the past have been for hours and not between 2 to 5 days. That is how long PG&E has said the power will be out in Manteca and other nearby cities served by a transmission line that slashes through Manteca if it is de-energized due to extreme wildfire conditions where in areas served by the high voltage line.

Sewer can start backing up within three to six hours. Once that starts happening raw sewage would then start backing up into homes and businesses creating a major health emergency.

Crews would be dispatched around the clock to move the generators around to power lift station pumps throughout Manteca to intermittently allow backed up wastewater to flow for periods of time.

Staff noted there are 61 storm water pumps. None of them have backup generators. 

While the wildfire season last year extended through December in parts of the state there were some regions that received substantial rain during that time. It is highly unlikely Manteca could receive significant rain while extreme wildfire conditions exist in areas served by the high voltage transmission line that passes through Manteca but it is possible.

City staff noted Manteca has storm retention basins in various parks that could hold water if that does happen.

The generators are being paid from funds collected from wastewater ratepayers.

The city is still working on securing a generator for the senior center.

The backup generator they currently have for the center would be adequate enough to charge critical medical devices for Manteca residents who need them. Most devices that people use to either stay healthy or alive only have backup power that’s good for several hours.

Given that during the time of much of the wildfire season temperatures in Manteca are peaking between 80 and in excess of 100 degrees, the city has determined it is a must that the senior center air conditioning be available for the infirm that may need an emergency cooling center to avoid an epidemic of heat-related illnesses.

The city’s emergency operations center located in rented office space across from the Civic Center campus does not have a backup generator. If PG&E cuts off the fuel, the city’s emergency operations center will be shifted to a fire station.

Manteca Fire Battalion Chief Dave Marques who is overseeing the city’s emergency operations and preparedness has called a 2 to 5 day stretch without electricity “unprecedented for any city in California.”

The city is also in the process of trying to secure a guaranteed supply of power to run generators during a PG&E induced emergency.

There has been no cost estimate of such a contract although Lathrop expects to spend around $100,000 for necessary fuel to keep generators running 24/7 for critical operations if power is out for more than  two days.

Manteca will also rack up significant overtime for police and fire. All days off and vacations would be cancelled. Manteca Police would eliminate the three 10 hour shifts that overlap during a 24-hour period and instead go to two 12-hour shifts. That would put about 40 sworn officers on the street at any given time to handle expected increased call volume as well as property crimes and potential looting of shuttered businesses.

The city as the outage unfolds would be forced to call most of its other personnel back in a bid to assure public health and safety. That would result in more overtime.

PG&E has made it clear they will not pay for any losses when they cut off power locally to protect shareholders from incurring losses by making sure their equipment elsewhere is de-energized and can’t cause a wildfire that can be traced back to them.

PG&E has conceded aging equipment they failed to maintain and/or replace caused the wildfire in November that killed 85 people in Butte County, destroyed 14,000 homes, and burned 5,000 other buildings.