Diesel generator providing power along Tomales Bay after widespread outage

David Briggs
A diesel generator has been providing power for the past week to 1,400 households in Inverness, where clocks appear to be jumping ahead a minute or more a day.  

For many residents this week, time seemed to be speeding up—at least for those looking at oven clocks or other time devices plugged into a power source. In the aftermath of the extensive blackout last week, there’s an apparent explanation: A diesel-fueled generator housed by two 18-wheelers parked at the Tomales Bay Resort that has been providing power to about 1,400 households in Inverness and beyond since a fallen tree at the PG&E substation in Olema knocked out power last Tuesday night. The electric company was able to make repairs to restore service to roughly 600 of the 2,000 total customers that lost electricity, but for the rest, it took interim measures. The generator housed at the resort, which is using 1,400 gallons of diesel a day, has the capacity to provide two megawatts of power. Inverness resident Emmanuel Serriere wrote to the Light this week, “Since our electricity is now coming from these behemoth machines in the Fog’s Kitchen parking lot, it appears that all our plugged-in clocks—microwave and cooktop—are running fast by a little over a minute per day.” He asked, “Are we over-juiced?” It’s unclear. The shift worker for Peterson Cat—PG&E’s contractor based in San Leandro that took the Inverness job—who was working this Tuesday as part of a 24-hour patrol denied the possibility that the frequency was off. “That’s so funny,” he said. “There’s no way. We are operating at exactly 60.2 [hertz].” Yet the frequency of electricity that runs through power lines—and sets the time kept by electric clocks—is a standard of 60 hertz in the United States. (Sixty hertz means that the current changes direction 120 times, or 60 cycles, every second.) Deviations in frequency can definitely affect devices, Inverness Park appliance repairman Dave Brast said. In a twist, when asked about the discrepancy on Wednesday, the shift worker denied the earlier conversation with the Light and confirmed that the generator was running at 60 hertz. Another subcontractor stationed in the parking lot, from Vince Signal Electrical, yesterday said that even if the frequency had jumped to 60.2, it would take around 60 hours to change clocks by one minute.  PG&E spokeswoman Andrea Menniti did not answer the Light’s inquiries about the mystery. She did estimate that infrastructure in Olema would be repaired on Wednesday, though the company hadn’t turned off the generator as of that afternoon. Meanwhile, the makeshift substation is affecting business at the Tomales Bay Resort. According to owner Jeff Harriman, the past week has brought in few drive-by customers, though PG&E is renting the space from him (he declined to disclose the price). Mr. Harriman said his staff is helping guests upgrade to rooms farther away from the constant, low hum of the generator or else offering a discount. “Most people understand,” he said. “We hand out a little letter explaining the situation. We are learning that individuals’ tolerance for noise is a wide spectrum.”