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Oh, No! Foiled Again

Metallic balloons that collide with power lines are blamed for more outages.

June 10, 2004|Debora Vrana | Times Staff Writer

It's California's stealth energy crisis.

Rogue metallic balloons are behind a rising number of electricity outages in Southern California, drifting into power lines and becoming entangled in equipment. Such incidents are up 78% this year, and that's not just hot air. Since January, foil helium-filled balloons have caused 160 outages that affected nearly 100,000 people, according to Southern California Edison Co.

Larry Grant, vice president for power delivery at the Edison International utility unit, said itinerant balloons "can cause electrical overhead lines and equipment to fall to the ground, resulting in property damage or serious personal injury."

A surge in demand for metal-foil balloons appears to be behind the increase in floating blackouts. The balloons are popular because they come in various shapes -- letters, numbers or cartoon characters, for example -- and can last up to a week. Latex balloons typically hold their air for just 24 hours.

"In the past 10 years, foil balloon sales have taken off," said Jeff Panciroli of Betallic, a St. Louis-based balloon maker.

Edison worries that summer celebrations could bring another wave of balloon- related blackouts. The utility urges partygoers to keep their metallic balloons indoors -- and away from power lines.

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