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Power outages plague Long Beach over a long, hot summer

A screengrab shows Southern California Edison's outages at mid-day August 28, when temperatures were over 100 degrees across its 50,000 square-mile, 5-million person service area
A screengrab shows Southern California Edison's outages at mid-day August 28, when temperatures were over 100 degrees across its 50,000 square-mile, 5-million person service area
Southern California Edison website

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Long Beach has had at least four substantial power outages darkening  homes and businesses in the past two months. 

Two new power outages this month -- each affecting thousands of Long Beach customers -- were most likely heat-related according to Southern California Edison. The most recent was on Thursday.

Coming after outages occurring on July 15 and 30 that left the city's downtown in the dark for days -- Long Beach residents might well be asking themselves  if Edison's Long Beach system can take the heat?

Each of the outages happened during very hot spells in the generally cool coastal city.

Edison spokesman David Song said  electrical equipment doesn't get a chance to cool overnight when the heat persists over several days.

"During prolonged heat waves, people turn on their (air conditioning) a lot more often especially at night and we do see equipment failing due to those reasons," Song said.

 The relatively brief outages on Aug. 5 and on Thursday occurred in a different part of the system from the one responsible for the protracted July outages downtown. 

Smoke was seen coming from an electrical vault near Chestnut Ave. and Pacific Coast Highway Thursday afternoon, Song said. Equipment failed and some 2,700 customers between 14th Street and Willow Street were without power for about an hour.

The downtown blackouts were in Edison's "networked" portion of the system, where all circuits are interconnected with each other. That design, constructed in the 1950s and common in other large cities such as New York and Chicago, is described by Edison as generally reliable.

However, when an outage occurs and sets off an electrical vault fire or repeated explosions as occurred in July, the fires and explosions can spread to a wider portion of the system through the underground conduits. It took the shutdown of a very wide swath of customers to bring the system back online.

The Long Beach July outages remain under investigation by the state Public Utilities Commission.

An equipment failure in a Metro Blue Line power substation stalled Friday morning commuters on the light rail trains downtown for 80 minutes. That was a problem in Metro's system and unrelated to Edison's outages.