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Yes, LADWP Had Outages Recently, But It Wasn’t Because Of Insufficient Power

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The sun sets behind power lines and poles in Rosemead, California, on July 9, 2018. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)
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Los Angeles power customers have been spared the rolling outages that darkened hundreds of thousands of homes across California beginning on Friday, and for a very good reason.

The city’s Department of Water and Power is independent from the nonprofit energy collective which dictates how power is distributed across the rest of the state — and which ordered the shutoffs.

That collective, the California Independent System Operator, includes Southern California Edison as well as most other smaller city-run power utilities, and it can issue orders for how they can reduce energy use when there is a shortage.

OVERHEATING EQUIPMENT

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While LADWP has never resorted to a rolling outage to save energy, it’s still had its share of power outages during this heatwave. But they've been related to equipment overheating and cycling off.

Highland Park and the Westlake/Silverlake areas had hours-long outages beginning around 4 p.m. Tuesday with some lasting into Wednesday morning, said LADWP spokesman Joseph Ramallo.

About 12,000 customers lost power when two distribution stations overheated from running continuously. The stations turned off automatically to avoid damage to the equipment.

There are about 100 distribution stations around the city. That’s where high-voltage power is lowered to the voltage that homes and businesses use.

In that case, the equipment needed several hours to cool off, and then had to be inspected and repaired before it was restarted. That’s why such outages took more time to be restored than the one-to-two hour outages happening in Edison territory and other cities outside of L.A.

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Another outage affected a few dozen customers in Studio City when a tree limb fell on power lines.

OUTAGES IN CONTEXT

Ramallo added that other utilities outside the city get as many if not more outages, but they don’t get the same critical attention as outages in LADWP territory.

“There is an outsized sort of focus on the numbers in L.A., which we understand, because when customers are without power in this kind of heat, it's extremely uncomfortable,” Ramallo said.

New power rates that took effect in 2015 have produced many millions of dollars worth of upgrades to what had been an aging power system, Ramallo said. The heat strain on the power system this week, while extreme, had produced far fewer outages than a similar heat storm back in July a few years ago, he said.

BACK UP ENERGY

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One of the things LADWP has done to increase the amount of power it can generate when demand is high is to create what is essentially a giant battery at Castaic Lake. Excess solar power (which might ordinarily be wasted or given away) is used to pump water from Castaic Lake up a mountain to Pyramid Lake, alongside Interstate 5. Then later in the day, the water runs downhill through power generating turbines at Castaic to create additional power when it’s most needed.

It’s a clever use of gravity — and partly to thank if you were able to stay safe, and cool, at home.

READ MORE ABOUT THE CASTAIC LAKE PROJECT

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