Letter: Distortion

Letter to the Editor

Hans Laetz’s editorial published on March 31 in The Malibu Times titled, “Power Blackouts Recorded in Winds Less Than 30 Miles per Hour,” includes several inaccuracies and distorts numerous facts. 

Southern California Edison (SCE) activates its Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) protocol when forecasted conditions are expected to exceed SCE’s PSPS activation thresholds. SCE’s top priority is protecting the safety of our customers, employees and communities. As a general rule, SCE’s wind speed thresholds for PSPS activation are set as the lower of the 99th percentile wind speed for the local area of the circuit, or the National Weather Service (NWS) wind advisory level, which is 31 mph sustained and 46 mph gusts. 

These settings were selected because the 99th percentile represents a wind speed value that is uncharacteristic or extreme for the local area of the circuit, occurring only 1% of the time, or about four times per year. 

A local circuit can have legacy thresholds below the NWS advisory level due to correlating wind speeds that cause local circuit outages. The company is working hard on grid hardening activities on these circuits to increase thresholds. 

The NWS wind advisory threshold is crucial as it represents the wind speed at which debris can become airborne and contact our power lines. This is important because contact from foreign objects is a primary driver for ignitions involving utility infrastructure. SCE only de-energizes when real-time information about conditions meet or exceed forecasted thresholds.

Laetz also states, “The CPUC’s enforcement branch used to hold utilities to a rule that power poles had to be built to deliver power and not fail unless subjected to wind gusts above 92 miles per hour, for a three-second blast … that rule has been gutted.”  

In this case, he inaccurately conflates two issues, a Commission General Order 95 requirement about pole standards and the fire hazards posed by foreign objects blowing into power lines during wind events. These are two entirely different concerns. General Order 95 has nothing to do with the standards the commission established related to PSPS.

Also, Laetz distorts and fails to properly contextualize a statement from the mayor of Simi Valley at a recent community meeting for SCE customers about the track record of collaboration between SCE and fire agencies. 

In part, the “quote” reads, “… SCE used to patrol power lines with firefighters, and when they saw a tree or brush endangering a power line, they would trim it on the spot,” and Laetz puts the mayor on the record that such patrols do not happen anymore. 

This is categorically false considering the company’s expansive vegetation management work and a signature program called Operation Santa Ana, which is a joint effort with state and local fire authorities to perform patrols together on overhead power lines and poles in SCE’s high fire risk areas. 

Laetz’s recent commentary is counterproductive to the discourse around the real impacts and hardships PSPS has brought upon our communities, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While we appreciate his commitment to public safety and keeping Malibu residents informed, we would also appreciate a more productive discussion based on facts rather than on generalities and misperceptions.  

We remain committed to reducing wildfire risk related to utility equipment and minimizing the impact of PSPS when it is necessary to protect public safety.

Erik Takayesu

Vice President of Transmission, Substations & Operations

Southern California Edison