La Cañada Flintridge residents are accustomed to losing power and internet access every now and then, but not like they have in the past few weeks.
More than 1,000 Southern California Edison customers have experienced several local unannounced outages this summer, prompting city officials to confer virtually with utility representatives on Tuesday and express their concerns and frustration.
Residents in three areas of the community experienced unannounced outages last weekend, including some connected to Edison’s Haskell line, one of the locality’s longest — it extends from northeast LCF into the south-central part of the city. Haskell line users have experienced as many as six outages since June 21.
“It’s a very frustrating situation and it’s devastating for our community and our businesses, especially with COVID and people working out of home depending on electricity,” LCF Mayor Terry Walker told the Outlook Valley Sun on Tuesday. “The number of outages we had this weekend was unacceptable, and they have got to do something. I think that they are on alert and they have a plan to share, and hopefully the plan will be successful.”
City Council members spoke with representatives from the energy provider for about 90 minutes, and Edison assured them it will work on finding the problem and fixing it.
“We understand that the recent outages in La Cañada Flintridge are an inconvenience for our customers,” Edison spokesman Reggie Kumar said on Tuesday. “Our crews are working to analyze circuit performance to identify any potential issues and make the proper repairs. Out of an abundance of caution, we have been conducting high-fire-risk inspections of entire circuits during these outages, because they are located in a high-fire-risk area. Given the length of these circuits, the inspections can take several hours to complete.”
The time and frequency of the outages is most alarming, an issue SCE representatives explained in a presentation during the council’s meeting on Aug. 3.
Ken Bodenhoefer, an Edison district manager who oversees operations in LCF, admitted to the council that service reliability was not as strong in 2020 compared with the previous year’s results, a trend that seems to have carried over into 2021. The average for minutes of sustained interruptions in LCF last year was 255.5 per customer compared with 121.6 in 2019, and the average frequency of such outages jumped from 0.7 to 1.6.
“I was really surprised when I saw these numbers — surprised and disappointed, to be honest with you,” Bodenhoefer told the panel last week.
SCE has been working to modernize distribution lines for all 22 circuits in the city for the last seven years, replacing four-kilovolt lines with 16 kV lines to increase voltage capacity and stability, improve efficiency and reduce outage times. Sixteen of LCF’s circuits have been updated, including the Haskell line, but the company’s current wildfire mitigation plan is what has made outages last longer.
Most of LCF is considered a high-fire-risk area because of its dense flora, and Edison’s wildfire mitigation plan requires any circuit interruption or lockout to be investigated by so-called troublemen and an electrical crew before they can reenergize. They must patrol the entire circuit to make sure there are no structures down or wires touching the ground, a process that took four hours when investigating an outage with the Haskell circuit last week.
“Even if we find the fault and think we know exactly where it is, we’re required to look at the entire circuit,” Bodenhoefer said. “Some people think it’s overkill, but our focus is on safety. We want to make absolutely certain that there’s nothing else that can possibly spark a fire that will destroy structures. Same thing goes for frequency as well as the momentary items.”
Walker encouraged residents to visit the city website at cityoflcf.org to watch the presentation from Bodenhoefer on Aug. 3 and added that Edison will have a “heavy presence” throughout the city as early as today, Aug. 12.
“They do have some plans to pull some of our residents off [the Haskell] line and put them on another line, which will hopefully shorten the scope of what they have to look at,” the mayor said. “I’ll be satisfied when we don’t have the outages anymore. I have to say I think [Edison is] equally concerned. I think they will put a lot of manpower on this.”
Scott Gordon, who lives in the Paradise Canyon area, was frustrated by the energy provider’s handling of the situation.
“It would go a long way if they came out and said, ‘Hey, sorry about this and this is why it’s happening,’” said Gordon, who has lived in LCF for 25 years. “It’s been so frustrating because we’re working and everybody is still working from home. It’s a big mess. One thing we can do is go over to Starbucks and try to get on their Wi-Fi, but that’s a pretty bad way to conduct business. When it’s just once in a while, that’s fine. When it’s so many times, I’m worried I’m not going to be able to do my work and communicate with clients.”
Longtime resident Sid Karsh echoed Gordon’s frustration and added that he has never experienced so many outages in such a short period of time as he did the past week.
“This week has been particularly obnoxious,” said Karsh, an LCF resident of 40 years. “The power went off Tuesday on my birthday. Then it went off Wednesday, and it’s not shut off for a short time. It goes on for a number of hours. And then it went off on Sunday around dinner time and didn’t come on until midnight. That’s three times in one week, and we’re not young anymore.”
Jurisdiction over SCE comes from the California Public Utilities Commission, but Walker assured that she and other city officials will do what is needed to resolve the issue.
“We do as a city have influence,” she said. “We are doing everything in our power to exercise that influence to fix this situation.”