Edison’s New Protocol and Safety Measures

Editor's notes: A representative from Southern California Edison (SCE) contacted the Mountain News regarding information that was not accurately depicted at the meeting reported on in this article. See the letter from Edison below:

"During the recent community meeting, Southern California Edison representatives provided information regarding the company’s efforts related to Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) and its efforts to mitigate against the wildfire threat.

Information related to a recent PSPS event in the Mammoth area may not have been clearly communicated and we wanted to clarify that information and ensure area residents have the best information available and also urge them to sign up for outage alerts at SCE.com/psps to receive notifications.

As part of a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS), power was shut off to 14,524 customers in the Mammoth area at 1 p.m., Monday, Sept. 16, due to high winds in this fire-prone area. By the evening of Tuesday Sept. 17, power was restored to all impacted areas except for approximately 10 customers in Unincorporated Mono County near Lee Vining. As of early morning on Wednesday Sept. 18, power was restored to the remaining 10 customers.

It is important to note that though we can not be sure that a fire would have resulted from the damage caused by the high winds, inspections following the wind event showed severe damage to several poles in the area that could have posed a significant fire threat if the lines had been live, at the time the damage occurred."

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In Mammoth, there was recently winds blowing at 80 MPH, with warm weather and lots of brush in the area said Chris Abel, the principal manager of local public affairs for Southern California Edison (SCE). At Edison, they decided to shut off the electricity to over 13,000 of their customers.

When the weather subsided and was no longer considered a risk, SCE sent out ground teams to perform damage assessment.

“One-hundred and thirty of our poles had gone down. Most of them were down on the ground, wires down on the ground,” Abel said. “If we had not shut off the power and those lines had come down and then sparked a fire, it would have caused about an 8,500-acre wildfire.”

Abel then backtracked and said they could not say for sure if that fire would have happened, or if it would have definitely burned down that much area, but a fire did not happen and their calculations after-the-fact indicated that’s what could have happened if they hadn’t acted as they did.

Abel went on to say that there is no longer a fire season in Southern California, fire season is all year long and that “10 of the most destructive wildfires in this state have happened since 2015.” The biggest thing he wants to impart to people is that they need to be prepared for emergencies, especially wildfires.

In their part to minimize the risk of another destructive wildfire, Abel said SCE is shoring up their defenses, checking all their equipment and structures and enacting a new protocol.

In the Sept. 19 issue of the Mountain News, it was reported that a new SCE protocol would be discussed at a meeting later that evening. This new protocol entails SCE shutting off power to any area where they believe the weather could cause damage to their equipment and lead to a wildfire, such as the example he gave, which is at the beginning of this article.

Abel said there are no hard and fast rules for their decision to cut off power to a certain area, but that many numerous factors play into this decision. Some of these factors include temperature, wind speeds, how dry it is, how close vegetation is to the powerlines, and what fuel is around that fire can burn, to name a few. The call to shut off power to an area is ultimately made by the men on the ground, inspecting the area prior to a shutoff. The power will remain off until the area is no longer considered a risk, a team has been sent out to inspect each pole in the area, and any necessary repairs are complete. This could be a few hours or a few days.

Abel and numerous other SCE personnel who answered questions prior to the presentation enforced the idea that it is vital for residents to plan ahead and have plans and kits in place should their power go out. The most common suggestion was to ensure there is a generator with fuel and a place outside to use it.

SCE is also performing other actions throughout the area they service, which runs from Fresno to San Juan Capistrano. He said a quarter of their service area is considered a “high-risk area” for fires and all of the mountain communities reside in a high-risk area.

Abel said SCE is installing 160 high-tech cameras in their service area, two of which are on Crestline Peak. These cameras provide a view of more area than previously available and can be accessed by SCE, fire departments and first responders.

SCE is also installing 7,500 miles of insulated covering to their powerlines.

“If a tree branch flies into it it’s not going to spark any sort of ignition,” Abel said about the wire insulation.

SCE is also installing 1,500 “reclosers” which he said will allow them to shut off part of a circuit, so they can be more precise in shutting off areas that need it, while leaving power on in areas that aren’t considered a risk.

Another addition SCE is making includes “fast-acting fuses,” which Abel said will turn off a particular wire “in milliseconds if an issue is detected.”

Over 800 weather stations are being built by SCE as well, which Abel said will be monitored by SCE’s on-staff meteorologists, who will be doing predictions 24/7. He said that many websites and TV stations that give the weather typically give temperature and wind speed to a broad area, but they need more specific information than that, which these weather stations should provide them.

SCE is, as many are aware, inspecting their powerlines and cutting vegetation away from powerlines. Abel said they are inspecting all of their lines, equipment, and structures. He said they have over 400,000 pieces of equipment alone, not counting all the powerlines.

Many have issued concerns over SCE’s removal of vegetation, especially trees. Abel said they are required to remove vegetation around their powerlines to a minimum of four feet on all sides, plus an additional amount equal to a year’s worth of growth. However, they are following the California Utilities Commission’s suggested amount of 12 feet away from the powerlines.

Abel said SCE is also cutting down “hazard trees” which he said are any dead or dying tree that could fall on one of their powerlines. He said there are over 3,000 hazard trees in Lake Arrowhead alone. He also mentioned that if SCE cuts down a hazard tree on someone’s property, they will off to plant a new tree or leave the old tree as firewood.

In both opening and closing, Abel stressed that it is important for all residents to have a plan and kit for emergencies. Some resources for this can be found on www.sce.com/wildfire as well as elsewhere on their website and all over the internet. Abel said it’s also important that people update their emergency contact info with Edison.