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Senator demands that Edison fix blackout problems

Sen. Ted Lieu warns that he may reintroduce legislation that would impose fines on utilities for frequent blackouts.

September 16, 2013|By Christine Mai-Duc
  • Gary Hatfield of Southern California Edison cuts a light line that was severed by an exploding power line on 190th Street near Crenshaw Boulevard on Sunday. The blackout lasted about seven hours.
Gary Hatfield of Southern California Edison cuts a light line that was severed… (Robert Gauthier, Los Angeles…)

A state senator is demanding that Southern California Edison fix what he calls the "massive, recurring and unacceptable power outages" in the South Bay after a widespread weekend blackout left more than 100,000 residents without power.

The blackout forced police and firefighters in some cities to rely on generators, and officers were called in to direct traffic in areas where darkened intersections were deemed unsafe.

It was the largest outage in Edison's service area since the devastating 2011 windstorms in the San Gabriel Valley, in which hundreds of trees were uprooted and scores of power poles were downed. Some customers were left without power for days in the incident.

Residents and city leaders in the South Bay have long complained about what they deem chronic power outages in the South Bay.

"In addition to causing disruption in homes, these outages have also hurt numerous businesses," state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) wrote in a letter to the utility.

In his letter, Lieu asked Edison to provide information about infrastructure improvements it has completed in the last five years, as well as a plan to fix ongoing power outages in the South Bay.

Edison officials said they had received Lieu's letter and are preparing a response. They did not say what the response would be.

Lieu told The Times that he has fielded complaints about blackouts since 2008, when as an assemblyman he proposed legislation that would have penalized utility companies if three or more outages occurred in the same area within a year.

After a series of meetings with Edison's executives, Lieu said, the energy provider promised to fix the problem, and he dropped the proposed legislation.

"It has now been five years, and the problem has not been fixed," Lieu wrote. "Edison's continued denial of the scope of the problem, reliance on outdated excuses and failure to honor its word has been deeply troubling."

The senator added that his office is reconsidering his 2008 proposal to enact penalties on utility companies and will also look into whether the state's Public Utilities Commission could use its authority to levy fines directly.

The utility acknowledged the inconvenience of the weekend blackout and said it quickly mobilized workers to respond to the incident.

Sunday's outage, which lasted about seven hours, occurred when downed lines knocked out a power substation in Torrance, affecting the cities of Torrance, Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills, South Redondo Beach, northwest San Pedro and Lomita. The cause is still under investigation, the company said.

Officials with Southern California Edison have attributed past outages to a variety of causes, including metallic balloons, palm fronds and corrosion from the salty sea air in the coastal cities.

"Those excuses have worn thin," said Manhattan Beach City Manager Dave Carmany, who added that other coastal cities with similar conditions don't seem to have problems keeping the lights on.

"It's not acceptable to have this number and frequency of unplanned outages," Carmany said.

In March, the company announced a $2.2-million initiative to replace distribution infrastructure in Rancho Palos Verdes and has said it is planning to invest $1 billion over the next two years to improve the grid's reliability systemwide.

Another measure to hold power companies accountable was passed last week and is awaiting the governor's signature.

The measure, by South Bay Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) would require utility firms to publish the frequency, size and duration of power outages annually. Half a dozen South Bay cities support the proposed legislation.

The governor has until Oct. 13 to sign the bill.

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