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Friday, November 16 , 2018, 9:13 pm | Fair 54º


Southern California Edison Gives Update on Outages, Santa Barbara Infrastructure Projects

Southern California Edison Co. offered a rare, detailed glimpse this week into the history of its planned and unplanned power outages in Santa Barbara, including the company’s short- and long-term plans to fix problems.

The Santa Barbara City Council accepted the presentation at Tuesday’s meeting, but officials weren’t sure the company gave the information enough context to put local residents at ease.

Members of the business community were especially difficult to convince, since they have dealt with dozens of unplanned power outages, even creating a petition in protest.

SCE offered to share area-specific statistics while the company works to implement its multiyear, multibillion-dollar investment plan to strengthen a territory-wide distribution grid, serving nearly 14 million people.

Three company representatives took turns tackling questions about upgrades, emphasizing a goal of providing safe, reliable and affordable power.

In 2013-14, SCE invested approximately $6 million in downtown Santa Barbara — a number that should double to $12 million in 2015, said Rondi Guthrie, SCE public affairs region manager for Santa Barbara.

Most of the unplanned power outages between 2012 and 2014 — some 38 percent — were attributed to equipment failure, with another large portion for operational maintenance needs, and a smaller number due to weather.

Milpas and Padre area substations were affected the most, logging the majority of unplanned outages in 2014.

City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss asked whether a backup system would be put in place in case another outage happens soon.

Representatives couldn’t point to any plan, but said reliability saw a vast improvement from 2008 to 2013. Data for 2014 would be available in a few weeks, Guthrie said.

“What do these numbers tell us?” Councilman Gregg Hart asked. “Is this good? Is this bad?”

He learned that SCE ranks its 34 coverage areas against themselves, meaning its districts are numbered from best to worst and not compared to specific standards.

SCE’s reliability-improvement plan aims to reduce outage frequency and duration by installing automated equipment, repairing and replacing circuits, replacing aging cable, installing circuit ties, and increasing its vegetation clearing.

The company will trim 20,685 trees in the Santa Barbara area this year, representatives said, and most of its local money is paying for updates to Santa Barbara substation transformers, which should be complete by the end of the year.

SCE is also hiring five more field crew members for the Santa Barbara district to improve response times and perform more regular inspections.

Hart was happy to hear SCE plans to add a third circuit focusing on the downtown area.

Guthrie outlined SCE’s outreach efforts, which include hosting an event from 9 a.m. to noon April 2 at the Carrillo Recreation Center, 100 E. Carrillo St., and an “outage school” for business customers on May 5.

The company is also working to match businesses of all sizes with representatives to contact in case of an outage (and vice versa) as part of a pilot program.

Councilman Bendy White called for creation of a regional collaborative — spanning from Carpinteria to Goleta — to lobby for the upgrades to SCE and the state Public Utilities Commission, which oversees the company.

Santa Barbara Downtown Organization Executive Director Maggie Campbell said fearful business owners have resorted to buying electrical generators.

“This has a ripple effect all through the community,” Campbell said. “Downtown Santa Barbara has to remain competitive.”

Opal Restaurant and Bar owner Richard Yates, who started the petition, became emotional when talking about the hundreds of thousands of dollars he and fellow business owners have lost in the past year and a half.

While grateful for the presentation, Yates said, “I would also like to say that we still face some uncertainty. If emergencies come up elsewhere, can we still count on your support and focus?”

Hart suggested a council subcommittee could keep in touch with SCE for updates, but no action was taken.

Mayor Helene Schneider asked SCE to come back to the council in six months or so, since residents want reliability sooner rather than later.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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