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.
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.
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.