Faced with a crumbling transportation system, a $15-billion deficit, overcrowded and underperforming schools and a budget system in desperate need of reform, the state Senate has chosen to turn its attention to protecting California from the threat of helium-filled foil balloons. That's right, on Thursday it passed legislation that would ban these balloons and make it a crime to sell them; the bill now goes to the Assembly.
Senate Bill 1499 is promoted by a small handful of well-heeled utilities that would like Californians to believe that occasional and inadvertent releases of foil balloons are somehow at the heart of blackouts in the Golden State.
The facts don't support this claim.
The California Public Utilities Commission reports that there were nearly 6,000 power outages in California last year. In looking at the causes of these outages, the PUC cannot point with certainty to a single one that was caused by helium-filled foil balloons.
Some of the state's utilities contend that as many as 250 of the outages were caused by the balloons. Even if the PUC, which has no vested interest in coming up with excuses for the power companies, were not disputing these claims, one would have to ask, "What about the other 5,750 outages?" Could it be that some power companies are looking for a scapegoat to blame for outages that are really caused by their failure to invest adequately in maintenance and equipment upgrades?