Guest Column: End the Current System

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Happy Thanksgiving—almost like the first one in 1621. No electricity. But ingenuity rules, so we barbecued the bird and the generator kept the fridge cold enough for two days and lanterns and candles added a romantic touch. I wonder if the pilgrims and Indians felt that way.

It is time for a sweeping change in how we get the power that makes our lives work.

SCE clearly is not up to the task and should be replaced. We must end the current system of a for-profit company that is guaranteed a profit no matter how badly they screw up—and one that does not act in the best interest of Southern California citizens. Regulation by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC), whose members are appointed by the governor and other politicians, who in turn receive big political contributions from the utility companies, benefits shareholders and not us. 

My Pulse Point app was screaming with notifications of downed wires from Big Rock to Kanan. Once again, rather than meeting the standard set by the CPUC (91mph gust for three seconds,) SCE failed. Miserably. The gusts were half that. But never fear, our friends at Edison had already shut off the power and, sure enough, just as those at the King Gillette Ranch “fact-finding” meeting had warned, these so-called public safety power shut-offs put Malibu citizens at risk.

PSPS have little to do with public safety and everything to do with legal liability. Edison paid Malibu $13.6 million for costs associated with the Woolsey Fire and more to individual homeowners. You’d think this would be an incentive to start undergrounding as the new president of PG&E finally committed to after being sued into bankruptcy. Because not only was the power out from the wee hours of Wednesday night until 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon, but both our landlines and cell service were cut as well. So, how does someone with a medical emergency call 9-1-1? How do Arson Watch patrols report a fire without driving to a fire station? SCE has never come up with a solution. PSPS is CYA to protect shareholders—not to mention all the fender benders along PCH as some cars stopped for the non-functioning traffic lights while others sped through.

The dirty secret behind SCE’s opposition to undergrounding their ugly 19th-century technology is that their profit model is based on the repair and replacement of aboveground utility equipment. So, instead of the wind damage hurting SCE shareholders and executives, they profit 17 percent above their costs, which, of course, includes administrative overhead. They will deny this, but undergrounding would result in a huge cost savings in terms of repair and maintenance, but only ratepayers would benefit.

Since in the land of the free we don’t do firing squads (except for vaccine mandates), every time SCE imposes a PSPS, it should be fined in the amount of 10 times the daily charge—credited back to each ratepayer’s monthly bill. And remember to file a claim for all the food that spoiled.

Secondly, SCE and those who rent space on the power poles should immediately be required to underground all above-ground equipment in fire-prone areas. They can pass actual costs to ratepayers on our monthly bills but also should provide specifications to allow competitive bidding by private contractors. The cable companies who rent space on Edison’s poles likewise can pass costs to their customers by increasing their rates.

SCE’s PSPS scheme is, just as they were warned, a disaster that should be ended immediately. These are taking a huge toll on the lives of those affected and pose a huge risk to the health and safety of our community. In other communities, fire officials have opposed such plans. This year alone, there have been over 20 fires started in homeless camps. If any fire occurs during a PSPS, you will not get the emergency alert from the city. If you have a heart attack, how will you call 9-1-1?  

It’s time for SCE and their PSPS to be replaced.