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Climate and Environment

Power Outages May Rise Like Balloons (And Thanks To Them, Too)

Close up of a group of shiny blue metallic star shaped balloons.
Close up of a group of shiny blue metallic star shaped balloons.
(RobinOlimb/Getty Images/iStockphoto
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Despite recent heat waves and wildfires, Southern Californians have yet to cope with power outages like the ones during the summer of 2020. But there’s another surprising reason for “inflating” summer power outages: balloons.

Yes, those shiny, foil balloons you see at graduations may seem innocent enough. But their surfaces conduct electricity, so when they hit a power line they can cause it to short circuit or surge.

Mylar balloons took out power for more than 35,000 Angelenos in the last month alone, according to the L.A. Department of Water and Power (LADWP). It's not a new problem: the metallic balloons cause about 200 outages every year. It's a big reason why some cities, such as Burbank and Glendale, have banned them.

Brian Wilbur, LADWP’s assistant power operations manager, said such outages should wane soon.

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“Usually this is the roughest time of year for that with all the graduations and whatnot,” he said at the LADWP Board’s Commission meeting on Tuesday. “So, hopefully we're at the end of that.”

But we’re only at the beginning of the summer's worst extreme heat and fire. As people crank up the air conditioning during hot weather, the power grid gets strained.

California predicts a shorter supply of energy this summer because ongoing drought has severely limited hydroelectric power supplies, and fires fueled by the state's dryness increasingly threaten power lines. That means rolling power outages could be on the horizon.

L.A. avoided some of the power outages in 2020 because the city has invested in solar-powered hydroelectric generation at Castaic Lake. It’s part of the city’s plans to rely fully on renewable energy by 2035.

Here are some strategies from LADWP to avoid causing a power outage if you purchase Mylar balloons:

  • Never release a Mylar balloon outdoors
  • Keep Mylar balloons away from power lines
  • Use balloon weights
  • Never use metallic ribbon with metallic balloons
  • Always deflate metallic balloons and dispose of them properly when no longer in use
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