Metallic Balloon-caused Power Outages on the Rise
OAKLAND, Calif.— California’s graduation season has begun, and it’s important that all celebrants understand the public safety risks associated with helium-filled metallic balloons. If your graduation celebration involves balloons, make sure they are secured with a weight. Unweighted balloons can float away and come into contact with overhead power lines, causing power outages and a public safety risk.
In the first four months of 2022, metallic balloons striking electric lines have caused nearly 152 power outages in PG&E’s service area alone, disrupting service to more than 56,000 customers. These power outages can interrupt electric service to critical facilities such as hospitals, schools, and traffic lights.
PG&E’s Asset Failure Analysis team found that a greater percentage of fires caused by balloons were larger than 1/4 acre compared to fires attributed to other common ignition sources tracked by PG&E.
For example, last month a balloon made contact with an electric line and caused a grass fire pictured here near Fresno. In April, a balloon caused outage in Madera started a grass fire and knocked out power to more than 13,000 people.
Ignitions caused by metallic balloons are increasing in frequency. There were 21 ignitions in 2019, 22 in 2020 and 31 in 2021: a total increase of 48 percent from 2019. Balloon-caused outages are most common in the late spring and early summer when customers are celebrating a variety of holidays and special occasions.
“We’re seeing a troubling trend of metallic balloons floating into our electric lines and starting fires. This time of year is “celebration season” – Mother’s Day, graduation ceremonies, summer parties, Memorial Day and Father’s Day – and we often see a spike in balloon-caused outages. That’s why we’re urging everyone to keep the weight attached to the metallic balloon if you plan to use them in your celebration,” said Andy Abranches, PG&E Senior Director of Risk Management.
PG&E Supports Balloon Safety Legislation
PG&E supports Assembly Bill 847, introduced by Assemblymember Bill Quirk, which requires that by 2026 all balloons sold in California will be made with a material that is non-conductive if it comes in contact with overhead distribution lines. More than 90% of balloon caused outages occur on distribution circuits and would be prevented by the standards implemented by AB 847, significantly improving public safety. In 2021, metallic balloons caused 602 power outages across PG&E’s service area, disrupting service to more than 300,000 homes and businesses. The legislation will also improve electric reliability.
PG&E conducted a demonstration to show what can happen when metallic balloons become lose and hit utility power lines. You can watch the video here: PG&E Mylar Balloon Safety.
To significantly reduce the number of balloon-caused outages and to safely enjoy graduations, Father’s Day and summer celebrations, PG&E asks customers to follow these important safety tips for metallic balloons:
- Buy latex or rubber balloons instead of metallic.
- “Look Up and Live!” 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 possible, keep metallic balloons indoors. Never permit metallic balloons to be released outside, for everyone’s safety.
- Do not bundle metallic balloons together.
- Never attempt to retrieve any type of balloon, kite, drone, or toy that becomes caught in a power line. Leave it alone, and immediately 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 far away, keep others away and immediately call 911 to alert the police and fire departments. Other tips can be found at pge.com/beprepared
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG), is a combined natural gas and electric utility serving more than 16 million people across 70,000 square miles in Northern and Central California. For more information, visit pge.com and pge.com/news.