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CPUC President Blasts Edison on Windstorm Response

Investigators at the California Public Utilities Commission estimate that 13.4 percent of Southern California Edison power poles had too much weight on them prior to the windstorm, according to their preliminary report

CPUC President Michael Peevey blasted Southern California Edison at a hearing in Sacramento Wednesday over the utility's response to damage and power outages from the Nov. 30 windstorm in and around the San Gabriel Valley.

"To some degree this was a botched operation," Peevey said following a preliminary report of findings by investigators looking into the utility's response.

Peevey--who was formerly President of Edison International and Southern California Edison Company before being appointed to the CPUC--brought up a and said he had expected utilities to learn and improve their own public safety processes since then, even in a situation like the November windstorms where the weather was extremely unusual.

"It is difficult to have adequate preparation for such an unlikely event," Peevey said. "But what it shows me is that a year and a half ago we had San Bruno and made safety our top priority, ... but Edison and others are not keeping up with what we want from them and expect from them”

He said the investigation would continue and that there would be "serious consequences" if the findings revealed so far are substantiated.

Power Poles Overloaded

In its initial findings, CPUC officials told the commission Wednesday that it appears a significant percentage of Southern California Edison utility poles were out of compliance with commission rules governing the weight of equipment prior to November's windstorms.

Ray Fugere, of the commission's Consumer Protection & Safety Division, briefed the commission Wednesday on the preliminary findings of investigators.  The full results of the investigation are still pending.

Fugere told the commission investigators estimated that 13.4 percent of the poles were overloaded with equipment.

However, he also said the figures are just estimates because many of the utility poles that Edison workers removed were destroyed.  CPUC rules requiring the utilities preserve removed poles so that investigators can determine the cause of their destruction appear to have been violated, Fugere said. 

He noted that only five out of 200 poles examined by investigators were able to be put back together--the rest were in segments, chopped up by utility workers.

With the poles destroyed, CPSD officials had to conduct their investigation by looking at poles that are still standing next to where the fallen poles were removed--investigators surveyed the weight of equipment on those poles and extrapolated what the likely weight of equipment on the fallen poles was.

Other Findings

Investigators' preliminary findings also included:

  • Edison's mean power restoration times following the wind storm were twice as long as the next closest utility affected by the storms, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
  • Many of the required CPUC contacts listed in Edison's emergency plan had long since retired from the state commission when the wind storm hit.
  • Edison employees at phone lines created specifically for government and large customer inquiries had no more information on the power outages than those at the residential customer information lines.

No Southern California Edison officials spoke at the hearing.

Power Poles Destroyed

Fugere said that following the removal of poles during the windstorm, many of them were destroyed and broken into pieces that were impossible to put back together.

He said that the 200 poles shown to investigators were basically all mixed together in individual cut-up segments left in dumpsters.

Investigators were unable to put back together most of the poles.

Fugere did not say whether investigators believed their destruction was deliberate or an attempt to avoid scrutiny of whether they were improperly overloaded or not.  He did note though that sometimes circumstances require utilities to cut up poles to remove them, and that preserving them could have slowed down the utility's efforts to restore power.

Comparison to Other Utilities

CPUC investigators also compiled data on response times showing that the median customer power restoration time for Edison customers was twice as long as for Los Angeles Department Water and Power customers, and more than six times as long than Glendale Water and Power restoration times.  Figures for Pasadena Water and Power had not yet been made available, according to Fugere.

Fugere also noted that SoCal Edison areas got hit harder than Glendale or LADWP, noting that 75 percent of Edison customers in the San Gabriel Valley lost power at some point following the wind storms, compared to almost 35 percent for GWP customers.  About 9 percent of Edison's total customers, which includes ones in Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, lost power.

Fugere did not go into details on why Edison took longer to restore power.

Communications

Besides having outdated contact information for CPUC officials, Edison also had the misfortune of having a ranking local public affairs officer retire the day before the windstorm.

That left many government officials in Southern California unsure of who to talk to for information on the crisis, Fugere said.

We are seeking comment from Edison officials on the findings and will post their response if we receive it.

Daniel E. Harlow February 03, 2012 at 10:26 PM
You mean like the generator I have sitting in my garage? As I had the foresight to purchase before the wind storm? Just because I had one though did not mean the 5 day outage I had did not have a severe impact on us. There are multiple studies that state the same thing, that while putting the lines underground can lead to fewer outages when they do happen they can be 58% longer, which is my point. While putting them underground sounds great, what happens when we have a major earthquake or flooding again which seem to be more common then a once in 100 year wind storm? I did not have to bother contacting Pasadena on why they are putting the lines underground, it says right on their homepage at http://www.ci.pasadena.ca.us/PublicWorks/Street_Lighting_and_Electric_System_Undergrounding/ "Historically, since the inception of the Underground Utility Program in 1968, the basic criterion to develop the multi-year Capital Improvement Program was Beautification. This program involved undergrounding of city and other local utilities overhead lines, allowing the removal of utility poles, which generally improves the character of the area." Why would I talk to LADWP? I live in Altadena! I talked to SCE the guys who were out repairing the lines and their supervisors. That were working very hard to get the system up and running again which I was very thankful for.
Bonnie S. February 03, 2012 at 11:33 PM
My husband is a firefighter and they do drills all the time to prepare for disasters. Policemen do the same. There is no excuse for SCE to not be prepared. I also live in Chino Hills right under 200 ft towers. They want to put 500 KV right on our narrow easement. Now picture a huge earthquake going through our city. If there is no plan during a windstorm that happens about every 10 years what plan do they have for earthquakes or God forbid a plane running into a 200 ft tower. We would all be dead and Edison would do what they always do, hide the evidence and start blaming everyone else. This is so much bigger than NIMBY. Let's not forget the coverup in the Malibu fires and what a coincident that they just happen to demolish all the power poles. When is this company going to be held accountable for their actions.
Gayle M. Montgomery February 04, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Bonnie, in response to when is the company going to be held accountable, I'm sensing from the article we're all responding to the answer is now. As for the winds, reports at the time is they were the worst winds in 100 years, not 10. During the huge Florida hurricane season, I had "the express pleasure" of going through Hurricane Jeanne. The eye of the storm passed right over where I was staying. It was only a Cat 1 storm (which is bad enough). It reminded me very much of when the Santa Anas blow, only with sheets and sheets of rain. I'd have to say the storm we endured was probably akin to a Cat 2, though I don't know that for a fact. I don't, in the slightest, believe that the utility is saintly. Biting my tongue on that for personal reasons. But you cannot discount NIMBY reasons as to power plants, it's a point of fact. Read up on any project any utility tried to put forth. Ratepayer burden is another tightrope. I've said it above, and I'll say it again. If the utility buys something or uses something and it's not needed, an article comes out, and we are all kvetching about paying for something that "wasn't necessary." This stuff isn't cheap. I'm not saying you're wrong. I'm just saying these are not black and white issues but rather shades of gray. And something else comes through in this thread. Even if we disagree, could we just be polite. Some threads up above simply are not.
Samantha February 04, 2012 at 06:05 AM
I'm sick today so don't feel like reading all the comments. MY COMMENT: Chop down ALL those humungous trees that cause a large percentage of their estimated 13%. They are, & have always been a huge cause of major damages during wind storms. Just take a quick look at the photo provided & you'll better understand what I'm writing. Pass the streets of ANY cities struck by heavy winds & you'll find that 100% of damages are cause by overzealous tree huggers.Don't get me wrong, I love the beauty of trees, but there comes a time when they need to be cut down & start all over; whatever. FYI, I have large wires across my back yard, however, during those winds, not one pole or wire was damaged, but my neighbors tree top crashed down on my car. Keep arguing, but as much as I'm personally mad at SCE, it's the damned trees that cause the major damages.
D Shelley February 21, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Jerry, the article didn't say that Pasadena responded any faster, only that Pasadena statistics were not available. This suppression of info. is pretty typical of Pasadena politics, including that of their school district. There were people in Pasadena who had no power 6 days later with very little info. being given out. You call that "quick"? As to underground utilities in Pasadena. Someone may have "initiated" putting utilities underground years ago, but there is really little being done in this area. Looking for someone to blame? I think what this article is doing is finding out who is responsible and making sure they are held accountable and perhaps fired. Wouldn't that be how it would be handled in the private sector?

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