Not only is the Hill subject to planned power shutdowns in case of emergencies such as fire or extreme weather, but due to equipment problems and maintenance, unplanned outages occur frequently.

In December, Southern California Edison, which provides electricity to the Hill, shared this message with local customers: “We’re working hard to improve your experience by making updates that will help us react, communicate, and restore power quicker during outage events. These efforts will also make it easier for you to get the latest information.”

As a major step to improve its service, SCE is investing $5 billion to upgrade the quality of its equipment, such as poles and lines, carrying power up the hill to local customers.

SCE also is working to improve its ability to keep these customers aware of what has happened to their service. For example, Edison will leave a phone message, a text message, or send a letter or an email to customers announcing when their electricity will be off in order for SCE to maintain the equipment on that circuit. 

When the work is completed, SCE will send a message advising the customers that the power should be back on. After an unexpected outage last week, customers received this message: “Maintenance Power Outage Restored. We would like to inform you that power has been restored in your area.”

Among the equipment improvements, Edison has increased the capacity of local power lines from 4 kilovolts to 12kVs. This improves the ability to interconnect different circuits because the 12kVs lines outnumber the older 4kVs. While this has a greater benefit in urban areas with many more nearby circuits, it still helps Hill customers. For example, Tomaso Giannelli, SCE’s senior manager of the Outage Communications Team, said it “… allows us to service business and residential customers on the same circuit.”

Other physical improvements to equipment include the gradual replacement of wood power poles with metal. Also, the capacity and fire resistance of the power lines themselves has been strengthened. This also reduces the threat of fire damage. Edison also is installing new fuses.

On the Hill, rebuilding and upgrading the substation in Idyllwild involved installation of equipment, which can be enabled remotely or automatically. Automated reclosers are circuit breakers that respond to momentary problems such as faults. 

Remote-controlled switches isolate outages sooner and enable SCE staff in Menifee to do some work to control switches while a lineman travels to Idyllwild to examine and repair the onsite problem.

Remote fault indicators allow Edison to locate problems along a circuit so that the lineman can go directly to that site. In the past, they would have to search the entire circuit to discover the problem.

All of these improvements, “Save time and allow quicker restoration of power,” Edison said.

Wildfires, such as the 2018 Cranston Fire, and weather, such as Santa Ana winds, which could damage equipment, possibly causing fire, are the primary reasons for the planned power shutdowns for the entire Hill.

SCE cannot wait for alerts about fires; the company has taken a proactive role to improve its ability to see and to forecast fire danger. It now has four weather stations on the Hill. This provides actual local conditions in addition to National Weather Service data.

Following the Cranston Fire, “SCE replaced 131 damaged poles with brand new poles, lines and equipment. So a lot of the area now has new equipment,” according to an SCE spokesperson.

Also, SCE removed dozens of burned trees near its lines. “SCE continues to monitor the condition of some trees that the SCE arborist feels may recover from the Cranston Fire,” the spokesperson said. “If the trees don’t recover, SCE will identify them for removal. SCE continues to do patrols every 90 to 120 days looking for dead trees that might threaten SCE lines or equipment.”

No matter how much effort and patrol SCE does, it still encourages residents to call about trees threatening power lines. Also, when power is out and you’re not sure it is a widespread outage, call Edison.

They stressed that customers can be the eyes and ears of a problem before it expands to a crisis. This can reduce the restoration time, Giannelli stressed. 

Edison encourages readers to sign up for or update their information at the outage center under “Manage Notifications.” They can choose to get text, phone or email outage alerts.  If customers have an outage or see a power problem, they should report it via 800-611-1911.

Also, if customers or residents ever see a line down, stay away and call 911.

As to PG&E recently announcing bankruptcy due to the fires in Northern California, Edison International and Southern California Edison’s Robert Laffoon-Villegas, Corporate Communications, said, “The tragic consequences of wildfires have impacted the entire state, and Edison remains committed to providing its customers with safe, reliable, affordable and clean power. 

“The company is able to manage the financial wildfire liabilities it currently faces, and continues to invest in grid hardening and other capital programs. Just last week, the California Public Utilities Commission approved Edison’s request to track its $582 million Grid Safety and Resiliency Program to help prevent future wildfires. 

Edison is also actively engaged with state leaders to develop comprehensive public policies to address statewide wildfire mitigation and liability reform.”