California regulators criticize SoCal Edison for failures before, during and after last fall's windstorms

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California state regulators issued a preliminary report Wednesday strongly criticizing Southern California Edison for the outages that left 434,000 customers without power, some for more than a week, after the serious windstorms on Nov.30 and Dec. 1, 2011.

Other Southern California utilities suffered downed lines and blackouts under pounding winds, but at one point, Edison had 225,000 customers in the dark. In a preliminary report, the PUC says that’s too many.

The report by the California Public Utilities Commission faults SoCal Edison for violating safety regulations with equipment that didn't meet safety standards, including wooden poles and stabilization cables, as well as failing to adequately investigate both the outages and those equipment failures.

Hundreds of wooden power poles went down. The early version of the report states that SoCal Edison and Communication Infrastructure Providers, which jointly own poles in Edison's service territory, operated at least 20 poles and 17 guy wires that weren't safely maintained.

Those failures by Southern California Edison and an associated company, according to the report, prolonged the power outages.

There was criticism of Edison’s slow response time, which the report says would have been faster if the company had sought assistance from utilities in neighboring areas.

The PUC report isn’t final because investigators are still seeking evidence and talking to Edison officials about what happened, but the commission’s consumer protection division says Edison did not keep some evidence that would have helped prevent similar failures the next time around.

An Edison representative did not have an immediate response, but said the utility would address the matter later today.

In the report, the CPUC determined that SoCal Edison's restoration time was inadequate, and the utility's emergency procedures were not updated. Edison did not follow its own emergency procedures, or public affairs planning documents.

Nearly 434,000 SoCal Edison residential and commercial customers lost power after winds gusting at up to nearly 100 miles per hour lashed the region Nov. 30.

The report could result in penalties against Edison, CPUC spokesman Christopher Chow said.

"Once the report is final, the CPUC will determine the next step, which typically would be a penalty consideration case where fines can be calculated up to $50,000 per day per violation," he said.

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