Utility’s Safety Violations Bring Big Fines

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 @ 06:03 PM gHale

One of California’s largest utilities will pay a $24.5 million penalty for safety violations uncovered after a 2011 windstorm left more than 400,000 customers without lights and a power-line failure electrocuted three family members, state regulators said Thursday.

The proposed decisions by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) staff said Southern California Edison (SCE) also violated rules by failing to preserve evidence needed to investigate power-pole collapses that occurred during the storm.

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An agency investigation found SCE failed in numerous cases to maintain poles or other power equipment that were factors in both cases.

The company said in a statement the settlement is “in the public interest.” SCE submitted a joint motion with the commission’s Safety and Enforcement Division seeking approval of the agreement.

The commission will most likely not consider the penalty until at least May. If approved, funds for the agreement would come from company shareholders and would not impact customer rates, Edison said.

On Nov. 30, 2011, powerful Santa Ana winds generated gusts nearing 100 mph, leaving hundreds of downed trees and tangled high-voltage power lines that blocked streets, keeping repair trucks from reaching many hard-hit areas. Uprooted trees remained on sidewalks and in gutters days afterward.

SCE officials later called the crisis caused by the storm unprecedented and apologized to customers for delays restoring power.

CPUC said SCE gave inaccurate information on power restoration and violated safety standards during the storm, which left 440,000 customers without power.

Among its findings, the investigation found 248 wooden electric poles damaged and broken. At least 21 poles did not meet safety requirements, for factors including termite damage or extensive rot. In addition, the probe found SCE’s emergency procedures were not up to date.

The utility also ended up blamed for an electric-pole conductor that fell to the ground, killing a man, his wife and their son. The investigation found the Jan. 14, 2011 deaths in Acacia, in San Bernardino County, were the result of SCE’s “failure to properly maintain its electric system in compliance with state law and commission regulations.”

The probe found “similar conductor failures have been occurring for the past six years on the same circuit and in the proximity of this incident. However, SCE did not take appropriate measures to prevent such recurrences.”

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