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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.

joy February 02, 2012 at 03:25 AM
Wow, a lot of us thought their communications were the problem and that this was just a freakish weather-related problem. Now we know the problem is much much deeper and has to do with Edison operations. I'm glad to see our CPUC identifying what really went wrong - and holding Edison accountable so they do better next time.
Jerry A February 02, 2012 at 04:34 AM
The solution is putting all utilities services underground. The reason why Pasadena and Glendale were able to restore service so quickly, they experienced less down utility lines because they had city governments who initiated putting their city utilities underground decades ago. It's a long and expensive project and it takes decades to accomplish it. Pasadena has been at it for decades and they still are decades away from accomplishing their mission. The city of Monrovia hasn't even talked about it. The City of Monrovia has been refusing to take on the project of putting all utilities underground. Since utilities include just not electrical services but phone and cable internet / TV, gas, water, etc. It takes local government to get the project off the ground and coordinate the project and the city has to burden some of the cost. But the city of Monrovia is more concerned with condemning private property, building a train that will have no affect of relieving traffic on the 210 or turning the hillsides into a refuge for gang bangers like what happened to Arcadia's Wilderness Park back in the late 90's. Those of us in the private sector who know how to successfully run a business learned that when there's a problem, you fix it, you don't waste time looking for someone to blame.
TonyW February 02, 2012 at 04:39 PM
I see that there are many trees on private and city properties that are very overgrown and intermingled with power lines, OR are very close to them. In my Monrovia neighborhood, the cause for two major outages in our area were due to overgrown/poorly maintained trees falling (or breaking) and tearing power lines down and damaging poles. This should be investigated as well - as I don't believe that all of the issues with power outages at the end of the year were solely the utility company's fault. If the trees that fell in my neighborhood were properly trimmed and maintained, I believe that the power loss that I experienced (for days) would not have happened. BTW: I do not work for a utility company. My comment is simply an observation of how and why I was affected by the wind storms.
Daniel E. Harlow February 02, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Actually this is not the solution, this would only help in a windstorm, not in an Earthquake or Floods (yes we get flooding here). As the lines would take significantly longer to repair underground when they are damaged as you would be required to dig up the streets. This comes straight from several line men I talked to about this and the benefits vs the downsides of putting them underground. The blame here clearly rests on SCE shoulders (which is a private company btw) not our government officials as you imply. SCE overloaded the poles, was understaffed, had no clear emergency plan and specifically choose not to use mutual aid agreements and save money by only using their own staff to repair the lines.
Gayle M. Montgomery February 02, 2012 at 10:39 PM
I spent two decades as an employee of the company in question and left a decade ago. At the time I was leaving, the company was going to something called Conditioned Based Maintenance, kind of like if you hear a rattle in the car, fix it. This was a dramatic change from the routine, preventative maintenance that had been done, and I had concerns. That said, it supposedly more cost-effective for the company and the ratepayers, who kvetched about rates with a high degree of regularity, to reduce the volume of maintenance. Though I have no loyalties attached to it, I do believe the utility should be cut some slack because this was a largely unprecedented windstorm in our area within the time of AC. I rather think the utility does need to go back to more frequent maintenance (if they have not already). Sometimes, when you hear a rattle, it's too late to fix it. That there was a potential nuke leak this week is going to be another cause for great concern. All this and a shooting besides. Poor SCE. Remember folks, some of the people that work there are your neighbors and friends. Most times, they go through hell in all kinds of weather restoring power when Mother Nature wreaks havoc.
Gayle M. Montgomery February 02, 2012 at 10:45 PM
Further, TonyW makes a very valid point about the trees. I've lived in Monrovia since 89, except for a 2-year lapse, but moved back with then Gold Line opened, largely because I loved the trees and sense of community. That said, I noticed a few days before the storm hit that many of the palms along Mayflower were in need of trimming thinking that, if the Santa Anas kicked in, we'd be in trouble. That was a City responsibility. But how many people appropriately manicure the trees in their yards? It's kind of like a fire safety thing where you clear debris to avoid disaster. The trees in town are lovely, but they are like pets that must be taken care of, the high cost of ownership. Drive through the affected areas and see how many cement walls didn't survive the struggle between the wind and the tree. Taking care of trees on your property is a regular part of owner responsibility. Thank goodness no one was killed (of which I am aware) by tree debris, but it clearly could have happened given the large size of trees that fell.
Jerry A February 03, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Mr. Hawlow, yours is an opinion that is not grounded in facts. Like it or not all electrical services will eventually be underground. It a public safety issue. The local communities will burden most of the cost, not SCE or PG&E. The longer the city of Monrovia ignores going underground the more expensive it will cost when they will be forced too. Again it's a life and fire safety issue. If all of SCE electrical services were underground when the wind storm hit, not one customer would have been left in the dark. If underground electrical were damaged which is unlikely but if they were, there's no digging up the streets, underground vaults accessed by man holes are located every couple hundred feet where electrical service cables that are in large PVC conduits can be accessed and removed and replaced. The only thing that could cause such damage would be the "Big One" a severe earthquake resulting in major ground shift. Then electrical service isn't the real problem but the broken water mains. I can live with out electrical power but I can't live without water. You might find this useful -> http://162.15.7.24/PUBLISHED/GENERAL_ORDER/52591.htm And it seems according to the PUC the problem is an engineering issue not SCE not being able to respond to an emergency.
Daniel E. Harlow February 03, 2012 at 08:53 AM
Really the fact that we have earthquakes and flooding here is not real? The fact it takes longer to repair underground electric lines when they are damaged is not real? Even though it is backed up by several other utilities such as Florida Power & Light at http://www.fpl.com/faqs/underground.shtml saying "we’ve found that areas that took the longest to repair were generally those served by underground facilities still flooded days after the storm passed." and they know a thing or two about responding to emergencies. The fact SCE decided not to use the mutual support to restore power? The fact they could not get accurate times for restoration? The fact that they did not even come out and put up caution tape around line that were laying in the sidewalk 5 days after the windstorm even though I called in in multiple times. The fact they did not even know the folks across the street from me were still without power 7 days after the windstorm and 2 days after the power to the surrounding houses was restored? The fact that SCE's emergency plan was out of date? The fact that SCE spokesperson, Jennifer Manfre, has said they were not "pleased with its response and has made changes, and, Instead of randomly fixing downed wires that have no electricity running to them because of breaks down the line, workers will focus on restoring lines in the radial pattern that power is transmitted". So which of my facts are not true? Daniel
Gayle M. Montgomery February 03, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Daniel, I am not going to disagree with you in totality over undergrounding, but I am going to interject that FPL MAY not be the best source for this. Just as many do not understand California topography til they actually get here, the same can be said for that of Florida. Their soil backup is entirely different, and they are prone to tremendous, random sink holes. Their soil is made up, in many places, of cochina (sp?) shells and sandy. So undergrounding is less apt to work in that area. There are merits to undergrounding, but the problem with lines above ground is they become a significant NIMBY area. Everyone wants reliable power except when it impedes their aesthetics/line of vision. Given our propensity for winds, it might have helped to have had a couple of wind turbines in key areas, but folks consider them environmental blight. It also made the base case for SOME homeowners installing solar panels that could largely take them off the grid except to sell excess power back to the utility. Maybe that's the conciliatory effort the Commission and SCE could make, more breaks for solar to ensure that, if there are future significant disruptions, less would be affected. The problem, then, of course, would be that such panels would have to be anchored in a way they wouldn't blow.
Gayle M. Montgomery February 03, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Sorry, that was soil make up not backup.
Chino Hills Resident February 03, 2012 at 04:43 PM
While the winds were freak in nature SCE's reputation is what is most troubling. Why are they always hiding something? That is why the citizens in Chino Hills are fearing for their lives with the recent construction of 200ft MONSTER POWER POLES in a 150 ft easement 70 ft close to some of our homes carrying 500,000 VOLTS of electricity over our homes, pre-schools, churches, stores, restaurants, parks, restaurants, etc. We are supposed to trust a company that hides information from the public that overburdens the power lines? Would you feel safe living in a community w/18 Monster power poles buzzing 500,000 volts of electricity over it and being told the EMF studies are "inconclusive" so we have nothing really to be concerned about? I didn't think so. SCE needs to get back to their roots. PEOPLE FIRST.....Stop thinking about your darn paycheck Board of Directors! SCE Executives!
Daniel E. Harlow February 03, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Gayle - I have also talked directly to the line men who service the lines that are both above ground and underground they have all told me they can repair lines faster that are above ground then underground when flooding or an earthquake hits. However there are several other groups that have come to this same agreement other then FPL http://articles.courant.com/2012-01-28/news/op-hc-tanaka-underground-electric-wires-expensive--20120128_1_underground-utility-lines-cable http://www.entergy.com/2008_hurricanes/Underground-lines.pdf Note this line "indicated that the frequency of outages on underground systems was 50 percent less than for overhead systems, but that the average duration of an underground outage was 58 percent longer than for an overhead outage." http://psc.wi.gov/thelibrary/publications/electric/electric11.pdf This I think is probably the most fair since it lays out the advantages and disadvantages which clearly there are both. One thing it points out which I find troubling is "One problem that increases emergency response time for underground transmission lines is that most of the suppliers of underground transmission materials are in Europe. While some of the European companies keep American-based offices, cable and system supplies may not be immediately available for emergency repairs. " Daniel
Gayle M. Montgomery February 03, 2012 at 06:00 PM
@Daniel, I appreciate your response, and it's not my intention to be contrary but rather to provide the insights at having worked at the affected utility for 24 years (again, it's been a dozen years since I left). Regarding replacement parts, the utility walks a fine line on that. Many of the turbines and equipment providers back when were in Germany. The question about the parts is who bears the cost if the materials are purchased and never needed? They can be quite costly. The same utility that didn't buy the materials and have them on hand would have to answer in rate case proceedings about why they have extra materials just lying around in surplus that are never needed. It's kind of a Catch 22. I understand your point, but utilities have had to show extreme prudency in things that flow through directly to the ratepayer. Way back when, they built it, we paid for it, and that was all it took. Now, they have to answer for everything. I'm not suggesting everything they do is right, I'm just offering you the other side of the coin.
Gayle M. Montgomery February 03, 2012 at 06:12 PM
@Chino Hills Resident, I have a sister who has extreme concerns about EMF. She won't buy many computers for the emissions she says they produce and effects she says she feels. She has actually testified before the CPUC about Smart Grid because she finds that alarming. I don't. I say this to say that you can take your concerns about utility equipment to the CPUC. Environmental hearings are held before anything is built. They have archaeologists, anthropologists, biologists, etc., that map the routes of anything proposed. (I worked with them, and it was fascinating.) But, for everyone, electric transmission lines is a NIMBY thing. Everybody wants the electricity that is produced; nobody wants to pay high rates; and nobody wants it in their backyard, nature preserve, or eyesight. So, what would you suggest the utility do? I know this is a real concern for you. I am empathetic to the alarm you have expressed. Where would you suggest you put their transmission lines? What I'm guessing is that they're bringing lower cost power in from some place else and relaying it over the lines,eventually to break it into smaller power bites in a substation near you. I get it, but what else would you suggest they do to provide you reliable, lower cost, electricity? By CA law, they're not allowed to own lots of smaller generation sources.
Chino Hills Resident February 03, 2012 at 07:05 PM
@Gayle - This is so much more than a "NIMBY" issue. It would be great if you wouldn’t mind looking up www.hopeforthehills.org. There are 200ft power poles on a 150 ft wide easement 70ft from some homes that will have 500,000 volts of electricity....these types of tubular poles have never been used in the USA. Humans have never lived under 500kV before... this has destroyed an entire community. By the way, we are the freeway for this energy...we won't even get the use of this energy. In addition if this project continues YOUR community could be next, so I suggest you and any one else reading this gets educated on the Tehachapi renewable transmission project (green energy) as we would never want this to happen to any one else. Our home values have declined (some homes won't ever sell) because no one in the right mind would ever expose their family members to the EMF’s from 500kV, so regardless of any argument anyone wants to make about us needing energy, there are alternative routes for these Monstrous poles to go (or bury the lines)…they should not be on top of our homes, pre-schools, etc. Please visit our website….hopeforthehills.org. You will not believe what you’ll find out! Thanks for your kind words and please wish us luck. Our victory will benefit every one else…P.S. You’ll see on our website we have quite a relationship with the CPUC! They know us and we know them! I am very proud President Peevey is looking out for the people! This is what we need!!
Gayle M. Montgomery February 03, 2012 at 08:51 PM
@Chino Hills, I will look at the website over the weekend. I understand your concerns about the potential for exposure in that this is a first of a kind. We all get busy in our day to day and sometimes overlook things, but the CPUC and FERC are often petitioned (depending upon whether it's interstate or intrastate) when new transmission lines and other equipment are put in place. We have the opportunity to speak regarding such matters. It sounds like you have followed up (and by the way, Mike's a great guy; I was involved with philanthropy at SCE and had cause on more than one occasion to speak to him when he was President, and he was quite generous). I don't know what can be done after the fact. To have installed these, approvals had to have been given, and it would have taken the clearance of multiple agencies over a multi-year process. Trust me when I say my sister has kept me very informed about her concerns regarding EMF. I've seen reports on both sides of the equation, and the last was rather inconclusive. That said, the sun is starting up another of its cycles of releasing huge coronal mass ejections (CMEs--see spaceweather.com), and do we know that any emissions aren't just the byproduct of or exacerbated by that? I don't have loyalties to my former employer, but I just want to be fair, and truly, I understand your concerns. I will read what you offered.
Jerry A February 03, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Daniel Harlow, stop your whining and take a little personal responsibility in your life and purchase a generator. Over 70 % of electrical outages are directly related to overhead transmission lines. Wind, trees, mylar balloons, lightning, traffic accidents and squirrels. Why you picked Florida ? But Florida already has 1/3 of their electrical distribution underground. An they are in hurricane country, high winds, high surf and flooding. Eventually 100 % of all of Florida's electrical infrastructure will be underground. Why not contact Pasadena Water and Power and ask them why they keep continuing putting their electrical distribution underground ? <"But, but but I talked to a lineman !"> But I have over thirty years experience in the electrical trades. By the way were those linemen you talked too LADWP linemen ? You know that the city of L.A. pays 80 % their linemen to hide from KNBC news vans so they can spend their days drinking beer in their trucks just waiting for a wind storm so they can actually go out and do something. I don't think SCE can afford doing what LADWP does unless you as a consumer are willing to pay for thousands of SCE linemen to just drink beer while waiting for a power outage.
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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