After major outage, Edison officials say power grid safe

Southern California Edison officials are responding to concerns from local customers after a major outage knocked out power for more than 4,000 customers in west Malibu earlier this month. A spokesperson for Southern California Edison maintained this week that the company is constantly vigilant of its equipment. 

Approximately 4,148 customers lost power on the evening of Saturday, Nov. 10 when a tree fell on a main power line between Bonsail Drive and Latigo Canyon Road. Most customers were without power until Sunday morning, but a handful of them did not regain power until late in the afternoon. 

The following Monday morning about 500 Malibu Road customers between Malibu Colony and Corral Canyon roads lost power too, when Edison reported a power pole equipment failure on a device used to manage lightning strikes. Power was restored after approximately 90 minutes. 


At last week’s City Council meeting, concerned resident Hans Laetz argued that Malibu’s electrical system is at risk and the west Malibu outage should serve as a warning. 

Laetz became a citizen intervenor in a lawsuit filed against multiple cell phone companies and Edison over the 2007 Malibu Canyon fire, and has testified as an expert in front of the California State Assembly. He believes Malibu’s grid is near the end of its lifespan and Edison cannot keep up its maintenance. 

“Why did one single tree wipe out half the city’s power for 12 hours?” Laetz asked the council. 

Edison spokesman Mark Olson could not confirm whether “half the city’s power” was out on Nov. 10, but did not think 4,148 was an accurate estimate of half of Edison’s Malibu customers and said the grid was under “unusual circumstances” when the outage occurred. 

The tree knocked out a grid that normally supports approximately 2,200 customers on Latigo Canyon Road from Ocean View Drive to Pacific Coast Highway. But the grid was supporting an additional 1,900 customers at the time because Edison was conducting routine maintenance on a grid that supports customers on PCH from Sea Vista Drive to Point Dume. 

“It was a temporary support of other customers because there were maintenance upgrades being done on the other circuit,” Olson said. 

Officials believe weather conditions caused the outage, citing reports of heavy winds. Olsen said Edison could not have foreseen the outage and was following its maintenance schedule by having one grid support two systems temporarily. The maintenance lasted one week. 

Among several other concerns, Laetz warned the City Council that most of the power poles in Malibu were installed in the 1950s and are nearing the end of their lifespan, estimated to be 70-100 years. 

In a telephone interview, Olson said the age of poles are not always Edison’s focus. 

“We are continuously inspecting and replacing poles that need to be replaced. It’s not that all the poles in Malibu are old,” he said. “There’s a mixture of old and new poles in any community…We replace them based on our inspections.” 

Edison workers visually inspect power poles at least once a year in which they assess whether a pole is leaning too heavily and if there is visible damage to a pole. Internal inspections of power poles do not begin until the pole has been in place at least 15 years because they are “new and strong,” Olson said. The internal inspection consists of drilling into a pole to check for damage such as termites and water rot. 

The Malibu Times made multiple requests for Edison to disclose the number of customers the company services in Malibu and the number of power poles in Malibu, but Olson said those numbers were not “readily available.” Laetz estimates the number of power poles to be in the tens of thousands. 

Another visual indicator that worries Laetz is the crookedness of power poles in Malibu, many of which appear weighed down by telephone and cable company wires latched onto poles and wires owned by Edison. 

“That’s proof that the system is corroded,” Laetz said. “Those wires are supposed to be nice and taut, and these are all sagging and causing poles to lean.” 

The Malibu City Council was receptive to Laetz’s allegations and asked Olson to prepare a report addressing the reliability of Malibu’s system, recent upgrades to the system, and more information on the recent power outages. Olson plans on making the presentation at the next council meeting on Nov. 26. 

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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