Report Faults Calif. Utility On Windstorm Response

Published February 2, 2012 6:09AM (EST)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The California Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday criticized Southern California Edison's response to a windstorm that left broad swaths of the Southwest without electricity last year.

Hurricane-force winds downed power lines and thousands of trees and branches late Nov. 30 and early Dec. 1, leaving more than 440,000 customers in the dark, some for up to a week.

The commission's safety division said in a preliminary report that the utility failed to meet safety standards for at least 21 of the approximately 200 poles downed in the windstorm.

The report also said Southern California Edison's electrical service restoration time was inadequate and that the utility didn't ask for help from other utilities — had it done so, power would have been restored faster.

Southern California Edison spokeswoman Jennifer Manfre said the utility also wasn't pleased with its response, and was already working to improve communications efforts internally and with the public.

"Part of it is how the data comes up and how our call service center" operates, she said. "We're looking at that system and we're trying to see how to make it more rapid and up to date."

The utility has also changed how it responds to downed wires. Instead of randomly fixing downed wires that have no electricity running to them because of breaks down the line, workers will focus on restoring lines in the radial pattern that power is transmitted, Manfre said.

At least 170 circuit outages were caused by vegetation, such as trees falling into and breaking wires, according to the report.

"These were 100-year-old trees uprooting and falling onto our wires," Manfre said.

The utility has struggled to balance local quality of life and tree preservation issues with best practices for areas close to electrical poles, she said.

"We had poles that exceeded safety standards that still came down because a big massive tree fell on them, so there are things we're looking at, such as tree trimming policies, which can be difficult in some areas because they're historically protected," Manfre said.

The report is a step toward determining whether fines will be levied.

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------