Thousands of Southern California Edison and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers remained without power Tuesday, and electricity for some was not expected to be restored until Wednesday, as the City Council began seeking answers to the problem.
Both utilities were plagued by widespread failures over the Labor Day weekend as temperatures soared to record levels across the Southland.
SCE restored some power overnight and through the morning, reducing the number of customers affected in Los Angeles County to 3,727 and in Orange County to 743 as of roughly 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.
As many as 40,000 of SCE’s accounts had been plagued by outages during the peak of the problem, according to a spokesman.
“We’re now seeing the numbers decreasing dramatically,” SCE spokesman David Song said, optimistic that power would be restored to most residents before the end of the day.
Song said the utility had brought in contract crews to help get power up and running, prioritizing a balance between those who had been without power longest and the outages affecting the greatest number of customers.
On Saturday, the utility broke a record for demand that had stood since 2006. That new record was then shattered on Sunday, according to the spokesman, who said the record usage was understandable.
“It’s challenging to tell people to conserve when they have nowhere to go,” Song said, noting that power companies were able to recommend that customers head to movie theaters, shopping malls and libraries to keep cool before the coronavirus outbreak.
With red flag fire conditions in the area through Wednesday, however, SCE warned that more than 54,500 of its customers could be subjected to Public Safety Power Shutoffs, which are implemented to help prevent wildfires from sparking.
Of those 54,500 customers, more than 11,000 are under consideration for shutoffs in Los Angeles County and nearly 9,500 in Orange County when winds were expected to pick up Tuesday evening. Customers affected can charge phones and other small devices and get water and snacks at community centers and SCE community vehicles staged in areas subject to shutoff. Those addresses can be found at sce.com.
Meanwhile, the DWP reported fewer than 3,000 customers without power by 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, down from more than 45,000 at 1 p.m. Monday.
Areas that were still without power as of 3:30 p.m. included Mission Hills with 268 customers affected, South Central (254), Larchmont (238), Sun Valley (185) and North Hollywood (116). DWP officials said there were several other neighborhoods with fewer than 50 customers who were without power.
The estimated time of total restoration of services is 48 hours from the time an outage began, DWP spokeswoman Dawn Cottrell said. Customers who have been without power the longest were receiving top priority.
Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez filed a motion Tuesday to have the DWP report on the events that led to the weekend outages. The motion asks the DWP to report on what actions it took to restore power and what plans it has going forward to prevent outages, as well as to report the number of people affected and the duration of the outages.
Although it wasn’t part of her direction in the motion, Martinez questioned whether low-income neighborhoods were affected worse than areas with higher income earners.
Martinez’ motion will first be heard by the council’s Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee.
“As I speak there continues to be … those who are without power, and that is something that this department sincerely regrets,” DWP Board of Water and Power Commission President Cynthia McClain-Hill said during an earlier commission meeting Tuesday. “We had crews that were out, as I understand it, doing 16-hour shifts … Every single resource that this department has and every resource that we could beg, borrow or steal was dedicated toward addressing this crisis.”
“We are doing everything we can to get everyone dealt with, both the large outages and the small outages,” DWP General Manager and Chief Engineer Marty Adams said. “We hope that we will make significant progress today and get everyone back in power as quickly as we can.”
Adams said many of the issues related to power restoration involve the need for a power line repair or a transformer that needs to be replaced.
The DWP was requesting mutual aid from nearby utilities in order to help with the high number of small outages.
“Restoring neighborhood outages affecting groups of 5-20 homes takes our crews much longer than larger circuit level or partial circuit outages where a single crew may be able to restore power to 500 to 1000+ customers in the same amount of time,” according to a statement from the utility on Monday. “In contrast, neighborhood outages typically take a single crew 4-6 hours to restore power to a much smaller group of customers.”
The statement added that DWP crews “have been working around the clock on 16-hour shifts since Saturday and will continue until every last customer is restored. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we respond to one of the worst heat storms ever to hit our city.”
SCE, along with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric, is part of the California Independent System Operator, which controls roughly roughly 80% of the state’s power grid. The DWP operates independent of that system and had sufficient energy during an earlier August heat wave to supply ISO with additional power.
Last month, faced with the possibility of rolling blackouts, Gov. Gavin Newsom pointed to the state’s shift to renewable resources as part of the reason for a supply shortage. Shutting down polluting gas power plants has created gaps in the state’s energy supply, he said.
While the state remains committed to a greener future, Newsom said in August. “We cannot sacrifice reliability” and promised that officials would be “much more aggressive … in making sure that is the case.”
Wildfires can also put pressure on energy supplies by tripping or destroying power lines.
The ISO issued a statewide Flex Alert over the weekend urging Californians to conserve their use of power. The DWP also urged people to set air conditioners to 78-82 degrees and “skip laundry and heavy appliance use.”
SCE customers experiencing a power outage can call 800-611-1911 or report it online at sce.com. DWP customers were urged to report outages at www.ladwp.com/outages or by calling 1-800-DIAL-DWP (1-800-342-5397) using the automated system.