Edison Power Shutoffs: Where Were You When The Lights Went Out?

File: A home sits without power during the Tick Fire on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, in Santa Clarita. (Christian Monterrosa/AP)

Record numbers of Californians lost power last month when the state's biggest utilities — including Southern California Edison and PG&E -- blacked out customers to keep power lines and equipment from starting fires.

Now, state regulators want to know how the companies decided whose power to shut off. The Public Utilities Commission investigation, approved Wednesday, will examine how the state's investor-owned utilities balanced customers' needs for power against the utilities' desire to reduce their risk of starting new fires.

PG&E had cut power to some 1 million customers in late October as high winds, low humidity and warm temperatures combined to create high fire risk.

Over the past few months, Southern California Edison has cut power to about 170,000 customers during red flag conditions — the hot, dry, windy weather when fire risk is highest. About 1 million customers received alerts that their power could be cut.

Both utilities had state permission to cut power to large portions of their service areas to keep power lines from sparking fires during dry, windy days.

The commission could issue fines if it finds the utilities violated state rules and regulations set up to ensure that the shutoffs are done only as a last resort and that customers' needs are taken into account.

One way the utilities try to justify the shutoffs is by reporting the number of places where post-shutoff inspections reveal tree limbs on power lines or other damage that could have sparked a fire if the power had been left on.

In Edison territory, inspectors found 24 places on 22 different electrical circuits during October. A circuit is a collection of power lines that serves a small geographical area and potentially hundreds of customers.

In PG&E territory, inspectors looking at power lines after the October 9-12 shutoffs reported finding 74 areas of damage, including 56 that could have started fires.


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