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Edison defends some of its actions after devastating 2011 windstorm

January 15, 2013 | 12:17 pm

In response to a state probe that determined Southern California Edison hampered a safety investigation prompted by the fierce windstorm of late 2011, the utility defended its actions, saying that restoring power “had to take precedence” over collecting fallen power poles as evidence for a subsequent probe.

In a report released Monday, the California Public Utilities Commission found that at least 21 poles were unstable because of termite damage, dry rot or other problems before they were bowled over in wind gusts that reached 120 mph during the Nov. 30-Dec. 1 storm.

But more than 75% of the 248 Edison poles that were knocked down in the storm were destroyed by the utility before they could be inspected, a violation of commission rules that the report said hampered its investigation.

PHOTOS: Santa Ana winds wreak havoc across Southern California

The devastating windstorm left nearly a quarter of a million Edison customers without power, some for a full week.

Of the 248 poles that failed, partial segments of only about 60 poles were collected and delivered for analysis by commission engineers; the remaining poles were "discarded by SCE staff," according to the commission report.

In a statement issued Monday night, Southern California Edison President Ron Litzinger acknowledged that the utility’s performance following the 2011 windstorm “fell short of our own expectations, as well as those of our customers, local elected officials, and the commission.”

But the utility defended its response, contending that in such a widespread emergency, “There needs to be an appropriate and practical balance between restoration efforts and preservation of removed materials for later regulatory analysis.”

Edison also noted that it while its “primary focus” was on restoration of service, field crews preserved more than an acre of fallen pole material as "evidence." The utility also said it looks forward to working with the commission to develop protocols for preserving materials after significant storm events.

The commission’s report comes less than a year after a study commissioned by Edison determined the utility had inadequate plans in place for emergencies and communicating with the public.

State Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and other local lawmakers reacted with anger Monday, saying the report only confirmed what thousands of residents experienced in the immediate aftermath of the windstorm.

They also said the report raised serious fear about whether Edison equipment might sustain similar damage in future disasters.

For its part, Edison said that it had already made changes in response to the windstorm, such as tech upgrades to its infrastructure and website, emergency messaging to costumers’ mobile phones and identifying 40 potential sites that can be used as command posts or for storing materials to quicken restoration efforts.

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-- Jason Wells and Joe Piasecki, TCN

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