Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is embarking on a project to repaint more than 200 of its large electric transmission towers in Fresno County starting in April – the first step in the utility’s effort to recoat towers throughout northern and central California with paint that does not have toxic lead in it.
PG&E has more than 46,000 transmission line towers in northern and central California. Inspections of those towers identified about 6,000 that were painted with lead-based paint to prevent corrosion of the underlying metal. All of those will be repainted over the next three to five years with acrylic-based paint, said Nicole Liebelt, a PG&E spokeswoman.
In Fresno County, 212 of 4,231 PG&E towers have lead paint. Eighty of those are in Fresno, and the rest are in rural areas of the county.
The first phase of work will concentrate on towers that are located in populated areas and will take 12 to 18 months.“We have to start somewhere,” Liebelt said. “We are choosing to prioritize our work on towers that are near people, so near homes, schools, daycare centers and parks.”
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PG&E also identified five lead-painted towers in Madera County, including one in the first phase of repainting where work will happen in February 2018 just across the San Joaquin River from north Fresno.
We are choosing to prioritize our work on towers that are near people, so near homes, schools, daycare centers and parks.
Nicole Liebelt, PG&E spokeswoman
In many cases, lead paint is peeling in spots from the tall lattice towers.
Crews are expected to spend three to five days on each tower, removing any peeling paint using vacuums to catch paint dust, while tarps on the ground will catch falling debris. Areas of the paint that are not peeling will be left intact and painted over. “Where it’s not peeling, that’s where the paint is still doing its job,” Liebelt said. “Most of the towers impacted have been in service for years, some since the early 1900s, and they predate many of the communities around them.”
Once the peeling paint is removed, the entire tower will be repainted with acrylic paint. PG&E has discontinued the use of lead-based paint on its towers, but lead paint was widely used in the utility industry throughout the 20th century. Many of the utility’s newer towers are made of galvanized steel, which is weather resistant and does not need to be painted, Liebelt said.
Lead is associated with learning disabilities, slowed growth, anemia, and seizures or death in children; with slow fetal development and premature births among pregnant women; and with cardiovascular problems, reduced kidney function and reproductive concerns in adults, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Maintenance of PG&E’s transmission infrastructure is built into the utility’s rates paid by customers. The repainting project over PG&E’s entire service area is expected to cost $300 million to $400 million spread over several years. In 2017, the effect on ratepayers’ power bills is expected to amount to about nine cents per month, Liebelt said. That amount could fluctuate in future years depending on how many towers are repainted.
Affected high-voltage transmission lines will be turned off while crews work on individual towers, and electricity will be re-routed to other transmission lines to keep service flowing to PG&E’s distribution system and customers. “It’s just like a detour on a street,” Liebelt said. “The transmission lines are like freeways, and the distribution system is like the side streets.” No power outages or interruptions for customers are anticipated.
Many of PG&E’s towers are on private property or public rights of way. The company will be contacting individual property owners in advance to let them know when work will be taking place on their land to minimize the potential for disruption.
Work will be planned so that electricity service to customers won’t be interrupted, and the schedule will be affected by the weather. Major transmission lines won’t be shut down in August, for example, when demand for electricity is high because more customers are using air conditioning, Liebelt said. And crews won’t work to remove lead paint in windy weather or repaint in rainy weather because moisture will keep the new paint from adhering to the towers.