The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors signaled Tuesday that it plans to push back against Southern California Edison’s wildfire-related power shutdowns, calling on the utility to provide backup generators to rural areas along with other concessions.
Downed power lines have been responsible for major wildfires. In response, SCE has instituted a program of “public safety power shutoffs,” or PSPS, shutting down the power grid in high-risk areas when weather conditions warrant it.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said rural residents in her district are bearing the brunt of this program. Though SCE says it only uses the PSPS plan as a last resort, Barger said residents in Acton and Agua Dulce have had five PSPS events since mid-October.
“During a pandemic, when there are no other options available, (outages) can be devastating. In many of our rural communities, residents rely on water wells, which cannot operate during power shutoffs,” Barger said.
“These communities also lose access to cellular, internet and telephone services, leaving them unable to receive emergency updates. These same communities are also subject to extreme weather conditions, and in the most recent shutoffs, which occurred on Thanksgiving Day and just before Christmas Eve, temperatures dipped below freezing.”
Barger said SCE’s notification system is inaccurate and causes confusion. She said the utility should be required to fix that system, provide more hotel vouchers for residents, and provide backup generators for long-lasting power outages if they are allowed to continue the program.
“There needs to be greater empathy from Edison for what its customers and communities are going through and to implement appropriate mitigation to make the shutoffs as painless as possible,” Barger said.
“This is not a new issue, and we should have a better solution at hand.”
A Southern California Edison representative told the board that the utility only employs the strategy when truly needed.
“PSPS is a tool that utilities use in response to weather for catastrophic wildfires,” the representative said.
“We fully recognize that PSPS is … creating hardships (for) families and businesses in high-risk fire areas. We know that the burden is more consequential with so many customers working and learning from home. Please know we do not use it lightly.”
Barger recommended that county attorneys look at “all available legal options” for mitigating the outages, but also said she wants to cooperate with SCE on a solution and help to remove any regulatory hurdles.
The county’s strategies could include seeking status as a party in an proceeding on the issue before the California Public Utilities Commission. The Acton Town Council is also trying to gain the same status, and the county could join the council in that effort.
Barger also recommended sending a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Public Utilities Commission and the county’s legislative representatives asking for additional review of the PSPS program.
The board voted in favor of considering all options and sending the letter. A report is expected back in 30 days.