Southern California Edison is facing a $10 million fine over its sloppy handling of Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS). The California Public Utilities Commission’s Safety and Enforcement Division (SED) is levying the penalty against Malibu’s electricity provider after a number of incidents that occurred in 2020. The state agency says there was “poor execution” of certain PSPS events in Malibu.
These intentional power outages in 2020 occurred in western Malibu, affecting residents of Malibu Park and Point Dume. That area is serviced by what’s known as the Cuthbert circuit. There were at least a dozen unannounced power outages in the late half of that year that did not fall under the guidelines the CPUC had previously set forth to help keep the public safe and informed.
The CPUC indicates it set forth explicit requirements for utilities such as SCE and others to notify customers in advance of disruptive de-energization events and found widespread noncompliance in 2020. SED mandates prior notification both substantively and with specific timelines that are communicated to customers. In addition, SCE is required to engage with local and state public safety partners who also communicate with customers giving advanced warning, which did not happen in the 2020 incidents. That left many Malibu customers and city officials literally and figuratively in the dark.
Requirements imposed on Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) by the CPUC’s SED include providing detailed reports after de-energization with specific details and within prescribed timelines that SCE failed to do. State regulators claim many reports received were either late or contained mishandled or incorrect information.
Most importantly, according to the order issued by the SED, SCE was supposed to explain what alternatives were considered before intentionally cutting power and why the PSPS was the course of last resort.
SCE is also charged with not properly notifying customers when electricity was finally restored. The utility must also keep a record of complaints received after cutting power.
According to a report issued by the CPUC the $10 million fine reflects the agency’s significant concerns regarding SCE’s requirements for these power shutoffs in “ongoing efforts to hold utilities accountable for safely implementing PSPS events.” Orders for corrective actions against Pacific Gas and Electric Company and San Diego Gas & Electric were also issued with fines of $22 million and $24 million, respectively.
A CPUC information officer, Christopher Chow, explained to The Malibu Times SCE can either pay the fine within 30 days or request a hearing. Fines are to be paid to the state’s General Fund and corrective actions taken in an effort to improve public safety and notification requirements. Any penalties paid “shall not be placed in rates or otherwise be paid for by ratepayers” according to the CPUC. If payment is not timely received by the commission, a late payment will be subject to interest in the amount of 10 percent per year, compounded daily and to be assessed beginning the calendar day following the payment due date. SCE has 120 days to correct violations. This is the first time the CPUC has used an Administrative Enforcement Order after uncovering multiple violations of CPUC PSPS guidelines.
The CPUC says it’s taking this action to ensure utilities continue to reduce the scope and duration of PSPS events and prioritize customer safety. The agency’s report said, “Notice of noncompliance shall in no way excuse the noncompliance.” The commission also noted it “emphasized the balance that must be struck in communicating the risk of a PSPS without causing confusion or ambivalence.”