Lights Are Out but Edison’s Home

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Reliability by District

An increase in power outages has raised concerns over Malibu’s electricity infrastructure.

Over the past month, residents and businesses in Malibu experienced six power outages in various places around the city. The cause of each outage ranged from routine maintenance to a pole fire. 

“I have been requesting data from Edison. Are we having an up spike in outages? It looks like we are,” resident and KBUU General Manager Hans Laetz said. Laetz is an intervenor in the  California Public Utilities Commission and a local expert in the Malibu energy grid.

Southern California Edison (SCE) tracks the frequency of outages and the length of outages, but this data is collected annually. No information has been made available for 2016’s overall outage trends.

In 2015, SCE committed to replacing 70,000 to 105,000 power poles throughout California. Poles are routinely replaced in Malibu, but the infrastructure on the poles is not necessarily replaced with them.

“They took the old wires and cross arms and insulators and transformers; they didn’t replace those,” Laetz said. “They unbolted them from the old pole and put them on the new pole.”

According to SCE’s internal data, 52 percent of outages in Malibu for 2015 were caused by “equipment failure.”

“Every time there’s an outage, it’s blamed on a line failure,” Laetz said. “That could mean a million things.”

SCE’s chart of causes does not create a distinction between an old transformer failing versus weather elements interfering with powerlines. 

The pole replacement project is expected to continue for the next several years, but an SCE representative said its unrolling has not played a significant role in the outages.

Instead, Malibu’s rural location and sparse infrastructure limit the system’s options when power is out. As a result, residents are in the dark for longer, compared to neighboring cities.

“When you have a system in a dense area with a lot of redundancy in our system, when an outage occurs, the company has many options to reroute power to customers,” SCE spokesperson David Song said. 

Song suggested that other factors unique to Malibu may be contributing to the increased strain on the infrastructure. Large renovations on houses with air conditioning units could pull more energy from a grid originally designed for houses built 20 years ago.

Interest in new technologies like electric cars or solar panels could also increase the amount of energy being offloaded onto the grid. 

“When you buy an electric car, it’s like buying another house worth of energy and putting it in that neighborhood,” Song said.

According to Song, the impact of solar panels might be missed. Residents using solar panels focus on their system drawing less from the grid, but their panel still produces energy and feeds electricity back into the system. Even if residents are pulling less from Edison, they’re still contributing to infrastructure strain.

“The wear and tear is still happening,” Song said. “The nature of the transaction has changed.”

Despite complaints over power loss, Song said the previous month of outages were not “statistically significant.” 

Despite recent issues, data show Malibu’s yearly outages and the length of outages has been trending downward.