More metallic balloons are sold for Valentine’s Day than any other holiday and, not surprisingly, it’s also around this time of year that customers suffer from outages caused by unsecured metallic balloons drifting into power lines. Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) reminds its customers as they celebrate their sweethearts to make sure balloons are always tied to a weight – as required by California law – and to never release them outdoors.
“Metallic balloons are conductors of electricity and pose a significant threat to power lines if released into the air. It takes only one metallic balloon to inconvenience thousands of customers, cause significant property damage and potentially result in serious injuries.” said Dave Meier, senior manager of PG&E’s Sacramento, Sierra and Stockton Divisions.
Last year, metallic balloons were the cause of 456 power outages across PG&E’s service area in Northern and Central California, disrupting electric service to more than 371,000 homes and businesses. In Fairfield, metallic balloons became caught in power lines on Feb. 24, 2017 – causing 355 customers to lose power. On March 11, 2017, metallic balloons made contact with overhead power lines in Placerville and caused a momentary outage that impacted 14,151 customers. A day later in Stockton, metallic balloons got tangled up in power lines that caused an outage impacting 4,194 customers.
Unlike latex helium balloons, metallic balloons can stay inflated and floating for two to three weeks – posing a hazard to power lines and equipment even days after being released outside.
Floating metallic balloons have resulted in outages throughout Northern and Central California. The top five cities for balloon-caused outages in 2017 were: San Jose, 25; Fresno, 14; Oakland, 11; Bakersfield, 11; and San Francisco, 10.
In 2016, 429 outages were caused by metallic balloons – a significant spike from 2015 when 370 balloons disrupted electric service.
PG&E urges customers to follow these important safety tips for handling metallic balloons: Use caution and avoid celebrating with metallic balloons near overhead electric lines, make sure helium-filled metallic balloons are securely tied to a weight that is heavy enough to prevent them from floating away. Never remove the weight. When done with balloons, do not release them. Puncture them several times or cut the knot and throw them in the garbage to prevent them from floating away.
Do not attempt to retrieve a balloon — or any foreign object — tangled in power lines or inside a substation. Instead, call PG&E at 1-800-743-5000 to report the problem. Never go near a power line that has fallen to the ground or is dangling in the air. Always assume downed electric lines are energized and extremely dangerous. Stay away, keep others away and immediately call 911 to alert the local police and fire departments.