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Edison Says Fewer Homes Will Lose Power In Fire Prevention Shutoffs

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Power poles that burned in the Thomas Fire in December 2017 dangle above Highway 150. (Sharon McNary/KPCC/LAist)

Homes and businesses in fire-vulnerable mountain and foothill areas should face fewer public safety power shutoffs this coming fire season, Southern California Edison officials said Tuesday during a hearing with state regulators.

Edison cuts power to areas prone to electrical equipment malfunctions during hot, dry and windy days. In prior years, its equipment has caused major fires, including the Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

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In 2019, the utility cut power to about 122,000 customers as a fire prevention measure. The longest outage was from Oct. 27 through Nov. 3, affecting 101,000 customers.

About 40,000 customers who lived through power shutoffs last year would be spared shutoffs this year because power equipment was improved, or because Edison has installed equipment that lets it more precisely monitor the weather risk to power circuits. But about 80,000 customers remain likely to lose power in a public safety shutoff, Edison vice president Phil Herrington said.

People who live in homes protected by the shutoffs have been annoyed and angered by the inconvenience of having no power, sometimes for days on end. They've lost power to rural water wells, power to charge phones and computers, and power to keep medicine cool and medical devices working.

The public safety power shutoffs are supposed to be used only as a last resort, said Public Utilities Commission president Marybel Batjer. The inconvenience of losing power is magnified during the coronavirus precautions that have more people home from workplaces and schools, she said.

“The haphazardly implemented PSPS events of last year cannot be repeated,” Batjer said.

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