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Edison Responds to Community Outrage

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Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2020 9:00 am

“Is it really necessary for you guys to do maintenance work when it’s 38 degrees outside?”

This was a question that drew applause from many mountain residents gathered in the San Moritz Lodge on Feb. 11. The question was part of a community meeting organized by Southern California Edison, in which, representatives from the utility company addressed questions and provided information about their work during the Thanksgiving and Christmas snowstorms.  

The audience member’s question pertained to scheduled power outages occurring on days when temperatures dropped below freezing with the wind chill.

“It has to be above 32 degrees during daylight hours and we do not usually do planned outages during the night in the wintertime,” said Edison’s Arrowhead District Manager Karen Golde to the room. “We do our best to plan our outages based on the information that is given when the work order is created and planned.”

Mountain resident Susie Moss said that she experienced one of these planned outages on Feb. 3 – at a time when the temperature was nine degrees Fahrenheit, including the wind chill. Eventually, Moss’s power was restored, but not until two hours after the time indicated on her Edison notice.

Golde gave reasons as to why a planned outage might last longer than the hours specified on the notice, including unforeseeable scenarios like broken equipment, new problems arising on-site or an increase in the scope of the work. 

She also noted that the California Public Utilities Commission stipulates every Edison work order must be planned and fulfilled within six months after being authored. In other words, Edison is on a mandated deadline and sometimes that deadline will require them to work in less than ideal weather.

Further, wind chill is not factored into the 32-degree cutoff temperature.

When asked specifically about Moss’s case, Golde responded:

“I cannot answer. I have no knowledge until I go back and research.”

Earlier in the meeting, Government Relations Manager Jennifer Cusack gave an overview of statistics related to Edison’s efforts during the snowstorms. She requested that community members write any questions onto notecards — a request only partially heeded, as, at times, Edison’s presentation was interrupted by community members speaking out.

“The Thanksgiving storm [was] a very impactful storm — lots of snow — record-breaking snow,” Cusack said.

Edison’s staffed meteorologists reported that it was the largest snowstorm since the 1940s. Additionally, Cusack claimed that road access was “a challenge” due to the wintry conditions. Edison’s ground crews found it difficult to immediately assess the damage and determine necessary repairs. Further, Cusack said poor ground visibility during and after the snowstorm hindered the process.

“The snow covering our lines, our equipment — (...) — the visibility in general when you have that [amount] of widespread damage becomes a problem,” Cusack continued.  

She and other Edison representatives acknowledged a need for better communication with the public in the days before and immediately following the storm.

“We do recognize there is some improvement there [that] we need to make,” Cusack said.

She announced that Edison had deployed 40 crews totaling 150 workers. These teams replaced 135 transformers, 110 electrical poles and 315 span wires.

Between Thanksgiving and the first of the year, the utility and contractors reportedly removed 260 trees and trimmed 3,000 — much of this occurring before the second snowstorm.

Yet, despite their efforts, when the second storm struck on Dec. 26, Edison lost a main line running power to the mountain. Cusack said the sub-transmission lines could not carry enough electricity to the entire mountain community.

“Once the main line was repaired, we were able to restore [power],” she continued. “Again, it starts with communication — another challenge we believe we can do better. We should have done better.”

Edison’s Manager of Business Resiliency Thomas Jacobus addressed the use of a communication protocol called macro-messaging.

“We didn’t want bad information going out,” Jacobus said. “Maybe the only information worse than no information is the wrong information.”

Jacobus said the enormous degree of damage during the Thanksgiving storm made it difficult, at the time, to estimate when the power might be restored. While he conceded that Edison could have better used Facebook and coordinated with the county’s Office of Emergency Services, Jacobus speculated that it was unlikely either method would have decreased the total outage time.

He went on to say that, despite Edison having their crews prepared the morning after the snowfall, it was difficult for them to access the mountain.

Later in the meeting, a community member pressed Golde about why Edison did not station ground crews overnight on the mountain and why Edison has not hired more members from the mountain communities.  

“When will SCE start housing emergency vehicles and personnel on the mountain permanently?” the resident said.

Golde responded, saying, that Edison employs three people in the mountain communities who are on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days per week.

The resident repudiated this answer.

“So, there’re only three [service workers] for 25,000 residents?” she said.

“We don’t have that many ‘trouble calls’ on a regularly scheduled week…” Golde responded. “When [there’s a storm], we bring up a number of people and they rotate shifts, and they’re available 24/7.”

The resident noted that on one of the severe weather days, Edison was unable to access the mountain communities because they had stationed their crews in the Foothill cities. She questioned why Edison does not have a building to house these crews.

“The problem was [that] Edison brought 40 crews up here,” Golde said. “There were not enough available hotels—”

The community member cut Golde off, questioning why Edison does not hire more mountain locals.

“Most of the people that work here at Edison live on the mountain now,” Golde said.

Golde told the community member that she would address the issue with others at Edison.

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