Southern California Edison staff, including Jim Ward, the assistant manager at the Wildomar office.
Photo by JP Crumrine

Big turn out for community discussion

Thursday evening, May 24, at the invitation of the Mountain Disaster Preparedness group, Southern California Edison staff were at Town Hall to discuss past and future plans to improve the delivery of electrical service to the Hill.

“You never know what power means to you until you lose it. And it happens too frequently up here,” said Mike Feyder, MDP president, introducing the evening’s discussion. “It’s more than an inconvenience; for those with medical needs, it can be an emergency.”

Speaking first was Jim Ward, assistant manager at the Wildomar SCE office. He described the work that has been done in the past several years to improve infrastructure on the Hill.

For example, the 4 kilovolt lines have been upgraded to 12 kV. Besides better reliability, the higher-voltage lines have several benefits. Obviously, greater capacity is one advantage. Also, outage times are fewer because there are now many more 12 kV circuits.

Besides the higher-voltage lines, SCE also has been replacing older wire with larger wires, some metal poles have been installed, and more and stronger cross bars decrease the probability that fallen branches will break wires.

This summer, Edison plans to make major improvements to the substation in Idyllwild. This is behind the Idyllwild Water District office. Among the upgrades will be the addition of a third circuit, which will be a backup to the two already there.

In its letter to local customers, SCE notified that the work will occur between May and October. SCE warned that outages will occur, but Ward said they should be limited to daytime and he does not expect any to be overnight.

Next year, Edison will begin work to improve and strengthen the line from Valle Vista to the Idyllwild substation. During work on this 14-mile line, Edison will use helicopters to bring in poles and heavy equipment.

“This will increase reliability and reduce the duration of outages and support safety,” Ward said.

Another benefit Ward and Brad Persak, manager of technical planning, described, would be the ability to limit outages to smaller areas and, therefore, a smaller population segment would be affected. With added circuits, Edison also will have greater capability to switch power to downed circuits from nearby undamaged circuits.

Brian Chen, from the Grid Resiliency and Public Safety office, addressed the situation in December when all power to the Hill was dropped. This occurred because the danger of a wildfire igniting from downed power lines was very high. Edison already had several crews on the Hill and they recommended the action because they were already encountering several downed lines from fallen trees or limbs.

While this precaution, public safety power shutoff, may occur more frequently in the future, Chen stressed it will be a last resort.

Millions of acres and more than a hundred-million trees have died throughout California. These pose fire dangers, and Edison is trying to address them in advance, but can’t prevent all fires. Pacific Gas and Electric is being criticized for not making greater use of power outages during the extensive Northern California fires last fall.

Chen added that SCE plans to expand its use of weather forecasting and has been installing small weather stations locally to improve its awareness of the local situation.

“We’re evaluating its use more often. We are focused on your safety and this is a tool in our arsenal,” said Chen. “We’ll always work with the local agencies and emergency response teams.”

To report an outage or to find information about the status of an outage, Edison has a website available for the public:

If there is sufficient interest, Feyder said MDP is willing to schedule another meeting to educate people about the nuances of purchasing a generator for emergencies.