After weeks of fielding phone calls from frustrated La Cañada Flintridge customers, Southern California Edison representatives visited the City Council in a special meeting Tuesday to address the recent surge in power outages.
Residents and business owners on the portion of the Haskell circuit south of the 210 Freeway have experienced nine outages since June 21, six of which have occurred in August, prompting some of Edison’s top officials to provide an update to a panel disappointed with the situation. The circuit is one of 22 in the city.
“Rest assured that this issue has all the attention of all our executives at the company, even up to Kevin Payne, our president,” Robert Quintero, the utility’s director of local public affairs, told the council. “We don’t take this lightly and we’ve mobilized a great number of resources to combat the issue of these outages.”
Edison upped its presence on Tuesday and will dispatch up to 10 crews (40 employees) over the next week to find the problem and implement possible solutions, such as placing fault indicators that signal the exact location of a malfunction to grid operators when a power interruption transpires, enhancing critter guards to minimize outages caused by animals, and installing remote automatic reclosers that isolate a faulted section rather than shutting down the entire line. They are also performing vegetation patrols, detailed overhead and underground inspections, and aerial inspections with the help of drones.
Crews have transferred 790 of the 1,503 customers to two neighboring circuits — Angeles and Ravine — to alleviate some of the load on the Haskell line, which is the longest in the city.
Edison spokesperson Reggie Kumar said the company plans “to accomplish this work by area according to the circuitry involved and expect to have the issues identified to date remediated by Sept. 3.”
Despite the recent efforts, residents experienced yet another outage on Saturday evening, and Edison officials admitted to not knowing the definitive root of the problem. In their recent inspections, crews determined that animals — three squirrels and a woodpecker — were the main cause in four of the nine outages.
“We’re devoting resources across the company and really the effort here is to diagnose, to repair and upgrade the circuitry here,” said Terry Ohanian, Edison’s director of field and planning resources in the area and director of expedited grid hardening. “I can’t explain why the number of animal-caused outages has gone up. The volume in August is really significant.”
Ohanian called the situation “unique” and does not recall so many unannounced power interruptions happening in such a short period of time.
“Six outages in one month and we’re not even done with the month. I think it’s different in that way and I would expect people to be upset with that and to the extent that they are,” he said. “… All crews we have available are working to solve the problem — all hands on deck.”
LCF City Manager Mark Alexander worried of a possible systemwide problem, informing the Edison representatives that he has recorded a total of 16 outages since June 21 that includes customers on the Barley Flats, Ravine and Rosemont circuits. Ohanian assured him that the company reviews every single outage and said none of them have involved the kind of impacts the Haskell line has.
“I don’t think any of them come close,” Ohanian told Alexander.
Some LCF customers have experienced outages that have lasted more than two hours, and Edison officials reiterated that most of LCF is considered a high fire risk area with its dense flora and fauna, and the company’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.
Mayor Pro Tem Keith Eich asked about the recent change in policy that now requires a lengthy inspection after an outage, and Ohanian said it was made by the company due to the record-breaking fires last year. Edison scientists thought it was unlikely that the state would experience the same this year, but 2021 is already outpacing 2020, according to Ohanian.
“It’s really done because of the extreme fire risk that’s prevalent right now. It’s highly concerning to us,” Ohanian said. “If you look at 2020, it was the worst year on record. [It wasn’t] even close. There wasn’t even another year that was a close second. It was such a horrific year in that regard.”
At this point, every possible solution is on the table for Edison, including the most drastic of all: reconstruct the entire Haskell circuit.
“At some point, if we go through all these options, we may have to get a point where we just rebuild a circuit,” Ohanian admitted. “That is quite an undertaking. It would be invasive. … It’s difficult to build new lines. Lots of challenges come with that.”
A few residents voiced their dissatisfaction with Edison’s efforts. Horacio Tamborini, owner of the Flint Canyon Tennis Club, said the outages have affected his business.
“My club is on and off, meaning it’s open, it’s closed because we don’t have lights,” he said. “It’s constant and I hear [about other] businesses on Foothill [Boulevard that have been affected]. It’s just tremendous besides the fact that we’re facing a terrible problem with COVID. What else have we done? Are the squirrels [attracted] to our grid and saying we’re not going to go across the grid? I don’t get it, because everybody else has power, but we don’t.”
Some customers have gone as far as to confront some of the crew members working to resolve the problem. The city and Edison asked stakeholders to allow the crews to work and not be confrontational, but rather “cooperative and courteous.”
Mayor Terry Walker assured residents that she and her fellow council members are doing everything they can, working closely with Edison and contacting elected officials.
“Unfortunately, we can’t improve the reliability of the line but we’re working with Edison as best as we can,” Walker said. “We contacted our senators and our Assembly people to work with us as well.”