Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) expressed support for a new metallic balloon law that will enhance the safety of PG&E employees, customers and hometowns. Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 847 which allows mylar or metallic balloons to be sold in California only if those balloons do not cause electrical faults when making contact with overhead distribution lines.
Metallic balloons conduct electricity and can pose a significant threat to public safety if released into the air. If they float into powerlines, they can disrupt electric service to an entire neighborhood, cause significant property damage and potentially result in serious injuries.
Specifically, the new law requires balloons sold in the state after 2027 to meet Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineer standards. The standard requires that balloons must not be conductive at distribution voltages up to 38 kilovolts (kV). Of the 47 fires caused by metallic balloons in 2020-2021, 44 (90%) occurred on powerlines with voltage below 35 kV. Those fires could have been prevented under the new law.
“Balloon-caused outages have been on the rise in recent years and have the potential to cause ignitions when interacting with electrical assets. This legislation will help minimize that risk and is part of our unwavering focus on keeping our customers and our hometowns safe,” said Sumeet Singh, PG&E Executive Vice President and Chief Risk and Safety Officer.
Metallic balloon-related outages can pose a wildfire risk. In 2015, a metallic balloon coming into contact with overhead lines sparked the Webb Fire in Butte County which burned 75 acres. Since 2018, the number of balloon-related ignitions has increased in frequency.
Balloon-related outages also impact electric reliability. In 2021, metallic balloons that drifted into PG&E power lines caused more than 600 outages, a 27 percent increase from the previous year and the highest number of balloon-related outages that PG&E has seen in a decade.