BAKERSFIELD - People who live in a southwest Bakersfield neighborhood are filing claims against Pacific Gas and Electric Company. They say a power surge this month damaged electronics, blew meters off homes, and fried fuses. But, PG&E has told at least one homeowner, it's not the utility's fault.
Clarissa Wilstead said PG&E claims a lightning bolt hit one of its substations. And, since the company can't control that, the damage is not its fault. But, she and others believe the utility's safeguards failed.
"I mean we are talking about thousands of dollars that people are now having to absorb that cost when PG&E's equipment failed," said Wilstead.
Wilstead details the damage she and her neighbors suffered August 19th, when their whole block went black.
"My first reaction was I thought maybe the light bulb burst because that's what it sounded like. And, you heard a pop," said Wilstead.
That pop was the result of a power surge. And, when the power came back on hours later, many of her electronics didn't. A hired electrician found her laptops and fuses fried, anything plugged into the wall but the lamps were lost. And, Wilstead learned she wasn't alone. Her neighbors had similar damage, some to air conditioners and outlets. And, a few homeowners had their meters blown right off the wall.
So, Wilstead filed a claim against PG&E.
"The equipment failed. And PG&E, I have a letter from them, saying that lightning happened. I don't remember a storm happening. That was the next day," said Wilstead.
In the letter, PG&E says lightning damaged a circuit breaker at its substation and negligence on its part was not found.
"We shouldn't have experienced any damage, but either their equipment failed or it was not in place," said Richard Traynor, a retired electrician who lives in the neighborhood.
Traynor went door to door through the neighborhood after the surge.
"I'd heard of meters blowing out of their sockets on the electrical panel, but I'd never seen it," said Traynor.
Traynor believes even if lightning hit the substation, the power generated should have been grounded. And if it wasn't, lightning arresters on transformers should have harnessed the extra energy so it never reached customers.
"They didn't operate properly. That's PG&E's problem, not my neighbor whose air conditioning unit was fried by the voltage surge," said Traynor.
"This can't just be an act of God. But, there was equipment that should have prevented this. Please reconsider," said Wilstead.
17 News heard back from PG&E late Friday afternoon. It said they are going to take a second look at the claim and the cause and will be in touch with Wilstead.
Wilstead has also filed a claim with the California Public Utilities Commission.