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By Samuel R. Avro on Feb 14, 2009 with no responses

Electricity Company Warns: Valentine’s Gifts Can Cause Power Outages


Southern California Edison (SCE), California’s largest electric utility, is again reminding Californians this Valentine’s Day weekend that metallic balloons, often associated with Valentine’s Day, can cause power outages if not handled or disposed of properly.

“If the power goes out, of course, we’ll restore service as quickly and as safely as possible,” said Cecil House, SCE senior vice president, safety, operations support and chief procurement officer. “But these are preventable power outages that unnecessarily drive up costs, which are passed on to customers. We want customers to enjoy Valentine’s Day and encourage them to properly dispose of metallic balloons by not releasing them outdoors.”

Stray balloons can drift into high-voltage power lines, where electricity can arc across the balloons, cause short circuits, burn wires, damage residential and business equipment and interrupt service. These outages can last for hours and may lead to inoperable stoplights causing traffic problems; lost production time for customers; pose potential public safety obstacles or even cause injuries, the company said in a press release.

SCE serves a population of more than 13 million via 4.8 million customer accounts in a 50,000-square-mile service area within Central, Coastal and Southern California.

The number of metallic balloon-caused power outages in California has increased alarmingly in recent years, going from 243 in 2000 for SCE to 569 in 2008. During the same period, SCE customers experienced more than 3,200 metallic balloon-caused power interruptions. These types of outages spike every February around Valentine’s Day with 55 outages occurring last February. Customers should keep in mind that a metallic balloon released in their neighborhood can drift, knocking out power in communities miles away.

SCE recommends these simple safety rules for handling metallic balloons:

  • Do not attempt to retrieve a balloon—or any foreign object—tangled in power lines. Instead, call SCE at (800) 611-1911 and report the problem.
  • Keep metallic balloons indoors, and never release them outside.
  • Never attach metallic streamers to any balloon—latex or metallic.
  • Never bundle metallic balloons together.
  • Be sure to secure a helium-filled balloon with a weight heavy enough to prevent it from drifting away. (It is unlawful to sell metallic balloons without a string weight.)
  • Never go near a downed or dangling wire. Anyone finding downed or dangling wire should keep others away, and they should contact the police or fire department and call SCE at (800) 611-1911 for assistance.