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Malibu Families Left Hoping SCE Will Hold Off Until The Turkey Is Done, Before Killing Power In Santa Anas

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Santa Anas arrived in Western Malibu at 3:47 p.m. Wednesday, and the predicted strong winds threatened to pay havoc with cooking Thanksgiving feasts from the Civic Center area west to Point Mugu.

Southern California Edison warned that power could be shut off if winds make continued delivery hazardous. Circuits from the ocean to Mulholland Highway, west of Pepperdine, were under the warnings, as were areas along Malibu Canyon and Mulholland Highway south of Agoura Hills and Calabasas. 

The strongest Santa Ana so far this year would be a 9 millibar storm, according to National Weather Service forecasters. Nine millibars will be the air pressure difference between the hot, high pressure air in the desert, and low pressure over the ocean.

Last Sunday, Malibu had a 6 millibar Santa Ana, and peak wind gusts above Paradise Cove were 51 miles an hour.  

The NWS predictions from the 9 millibar difference is peak winds of 40 miles per hour at some beaches, 50 mph in the Santa Monica Mountains, and maybe 60 mph at the windiest peaks.

By Wednesday morning, Southern California Edison extended its warnings of intentional outages to all of Malibu west of the Civic Center.  The entire mountain range was also under blackout advisories, as were the subdivisions in upper Malibu Canyon, Liberty Canyon and along Mulholland Highway near Calabasas. 

The warnings are called PSPS by the Southern California Edison Company.  That is how they refer to the state policy that allows them to intentionally kill circuits when sustained winds, dry air, heat and the fragile overhead power infrastructure mean blowing tree limbs or other debris could cause fires.

In some areas, like the troublesome Cuthbert Circuit in the Paradise Cove area, sustained winds of just 28 mph are a basic determinant for when SCE will kill circuits. Parts of Cuthbert were intentionally blacked out last Sunday for four hours, and some of the hills above Paradise Cove stayed powerless for 28 hours. 

KBUU Radio asked SCE officials Tuesday about last weekend's Cuthbert blackouts, and why that circuit in particular gets blackout warnings or dead circuits so frequently,  Company spokesman David Eisenhauer respnded.

REPORTER: 

"What's going on with Cuthbert? Why is Cuthbert such a problem?"

SCE SPOKESMAN: 

"Well I mean I don't … it's a circuit that we've identified as one that we … that we need to shut off from time to time for safety purposes for public safety public power safety shutoffs.

"It is a circuit that we have done some grid hardening make it safer … to minimize the impact of those … and we are doing that kind of work throughout our service area. 

"But this is one that because of the conditions… Conditions include wind humidity and other factors that we've identified as being in store for a potential public safety shut offs in the next few days."

REPORTER: 

"Now David, you guys have put in a whole bunch of weather stations up and down the Malibu - all over your service area. And if you look at those records —- for weather, for humidity for wind — they're not different (in Cuthbert) than any other circuit in Malibu. There are a few windy locations in that circuit, granted. But the winds are not that different in Cuthbert in the circuit to the east or the circuit to the west. 

"There is something about Cuthbert.  And Edison has already identified it as an area where you have extra problems and you've already gone in and already done a lot of work there to harden the grid. You've sent out a letter out about that. 

"But it didn't work.  That wasn't a particular windy Santa Ana as Santa Anas go and it wasn't windy are there than it was in other parts of Malibu."

SCE SPOKESMAN: 

"Well, I don't know the specific circumstances about why one circuit was selected and another wasn't.  I do know that in general the criteria are, like I said, wind speed humidity, field observations, we have people out in the field looking at the equipment — all of those factor into whether we decide to put a circuit into scope for a PSPS or not. 

"And again we've been doing work there to minimize the impact of that.

"I also want to say .. we understand … we completely understand this is a Thanksgiving weekend, a time when people get their families and friends together. And we know electricity is a critical part of that, and it is a hardship and we have to turn off the power at any time, but especially during the holiday gathering or holiday get together.

"We understand that.  We just have to do it for safety reasons. We can't compromise on safety."

REPORTER: 

"OK, last March, KBUU discovered Edison revealed in documents filed with the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission) that 28 miles an hour winds sustained winds were the threshold, along with other conditions, but 28 miles an hour it was the threshold for killing power on threshold.

"That seems awfully low, we get 28 mile an hour sustained winds here all the time.  

"And it seems to a reasonable person that that circuit should be designed, any circuit should be designed to withstand wind that are common to the area. And a 28 mile an hour Santa Ana is not unusual for Malibu."

SCE SPOKESMAN: 

"Yeah again I don't know the specifics of that circuit or what the criteria are. I do want to reiterate that the wind is just one of the factors that we consider for PSPS, you know, it's the humidity, the vegetation, how dry the vegetation is around it. And again observations from the field.

"And I reiterate, that's why we're doing all the work in the field.

"It could also be … sometimes you may not observe very windy conditions right in front of you, but there could be went further down the circuit causes us to need to shut that off.

REPORTER:  

"Yeah, but you guys have four weather stations on that circuit, and all of them are showing the same thing.  All of them showed winds not to exceed 51 miles an hour yesterday.  And 51 miles an hour, by any estimate, is not an unusual Santa Ana for Malibu.

"You know, I keep hearing from Edison: 'this can't be helped.' Is that what you're telling people, you've done the work?  You've done everything you can?  And this is just the way that we're going to have to deal with it from now on?

SCE SPOKESMAN:

"No, again, I can say, you know, we continue to do the work. We've done the work on circuits throughout the service territory, and we will continue to work to minimize these power interruptions. 

"There are going to be times just based on conditions that we have to conduct a PSPS.  We just want to reduce the amount of times and the length of time of those … the number and length of those."

REPORTER:  

"OK, so you've done the work you sent out a letter that says if we had the same weather conditions that we had last year, there is going to be a 93% reduction in the amount of time of blackout on that circuit…"

SCE SPOKESMAN: 

"Right."

REPORTER: 

"And to be sure, add to to be sure Edison has sent out far fewer false alarms about possible or actual PSPS intentional blackouts this year than you did last year.  And you got the power back up to most of that circuit and you got the power back up fairly quickly … most of the circuit within about three hours.

"So, you've done the work.  That was not an unusual Santa Ana.  Does this mean that circuit cannot be hardened to the point where we will not see intentional blackouts during what — by all indications - was a moderate not remarkable Santa Ana wind?"

SCE SPOKESMAN:  

"Well Hans, I don't know the specific answer to that.  I would want to give you an accurate representation. I am would want to look into that circuit to look into exactly what has been done, but I just don't have that in front of me. 

REPORTER: 

"OK, fair enough, and I have put you into an impossible position and I apologize for that.

SCE SPOKESMAN LAUGHS.

REPORTER: "… but the people in Malibu … look at the social media, look at the city Council meetings. Well that's when you can look at a city Council meeting.  We've had two city council meetings canceled because Southern California Edison has had two intentional blackouts on the Cuthbert circuit. You know we've had a lot of important business to City Council meetings have been canceled. We had a lot of important things on the City Council agenda last night that can't be discussed. 

"That's a tiny impact compared to people who can't make Thanksgiving dinner. You know that, I know that, I'm not telling you anything you don't know. 

"What is the bottom line for people on the Cuthbert Circuit, what are you going to do?

"What are you going to say to these people about these frequent power outages?"

SCE SPOKESMAN:

"What I am going to say about this public safety power outages is again we understand that interrupting power when they're supposed to be a city Council meeting is going to be a hardship. Interrupting power at any time is for any length of time is going to be a hardship for customers. We absolutely understand that.

"Thanksgiving holiday weekend … that's a tough time…  That's when people get together and celebrate each other and enjoy a meal. We understand that if the power is out that is a significant impact … and a significant hardship. We get it."

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