The root cause of a series of power outages which plunged various Long Beach neighborhoods into darkness, sometimes for days on end, over the summer appears to be a lack of oversight, a network operating outside of its “optimal design state,” and the failure of a spliced cable, according to a report released today by Southern California Edison (SCE) and Davies Consulting Group.
SCE said not enough material remained at the site of the power outage to determine what cause the cable splice failure. However, SCE referred to a “larger, systemic” cause of the outage, primarily involving the company’s lack of oversight and governance of the Long Beach secondary network, which left it vulnerable to power outages.
Since July, Long Beach has experienced six significant power outages, with the most recent major outage occurring September 8. SCE has not commented or given a reason behind the underground vault fires—except to point to high temperatures and an increased load on the network—that resulted in widespread blackouts affecting over 30,000 people at their peak in July and August until today.
Specifically referring to the first outage, Davies Consulting Group, hired by SCE to provide independent feedback, said the failure of an underground cable splice was indeed just part of the problem.
“SCE operated the Long Beach underground secondary network outside of its optimal design state; did not have processes in place to actively monitor and track equipment that was being operated abnormally; and made operating decisions that resulted in the network shut-down,” the group’s report states.
Other errors included the failure to check specific cables in the years preceding last summer’s outages, contributing to outdated equipment. One such example, SCE states, is the fact that the network protector failed to perform its function on July 15, allowing electrical current to flow into the failed cable splice, creating an overload that led to underground fires and circuits shutting down. This led to the failure of a cable on July 30, followed by the series of circuit shutoffs and vault fires that occurred during the second major power outage, on July 30.
Davies made a total of 35 recommendations to enhance SCE and the Long Beach network’s performance in the future, potentially avoiding such power outages. Such recommendations include:
- Developing and implementing a more extensive training and certification program for network operations personnel.
- Developing a network model.
- Deploying ICS below the Region/District Manager level.
- Assigning individuals with broad experience to incident leadership positions.
- Creating a framework for emergency response plans.
- Developing an underground network restoration process and annex plan.
- Developing an incident communications plan, plan modules, and associated processes to address hazards, threats, and risks.
- Expanding the One Voice process to account for different stakeholder needs.
- Formalizing the restoration information sharing and vetting process and implement a database/web portal.
- Updating the AMI capabilities for all of SCE’s service territory.
In July, State Senator Ricardo Lara and assemblymembers Anthony Rendon and Patrick O’Donnell had called upon the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to demand a comprehensive review of the causes of the recent power outages, along with Mayor Robert Garcia. Garcia said he "appreciated" SCE's acknowledgment of failures involved with the power outages.
"We appreciate that Southern California Edison is taking full responsibility for the outages, and that they have implemented procedures designed to prevent future outages," said Garcia. "However, we really need to await the findings of the independent Public Utilities Commission before drawing any final conclusions. These major outages were totally unacceptable and simply cannot happen again"
Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, who had previously expressed frustration and the desire for a state investigation into the outages, said he was pleased with the reports and recommendations.
“The reports released today by Davies Consulting and Edison are consistent in their findings, illustrating multiple infrastructure and internal protocol deficiencies, as well as concrete recommendations to address the underlying issues,” said O’Donnell in a statement released today. “Edison, for their part, acknowledges the need to confront these problems head-on and I am pleased they are already taking action on some of these recommendations. Moving forward, I am confident that by working together we can ensure the public’s safety and ultimately improve the reliability of our power grid.”
Assemblymember Anthony Rendon (D-Long Beach) said he as "disappointed" in SCE's operation of the Long Beach network.
“I am disappointed in Edison’s failure to properly operate and oversee its underground network in Long Beach," said Rendon in a statement today. "My legislative colleagues and I will stay in close contact with Edison to ensure the identified deficiencies in the underground system are repaired. There’s a lesson to be learned for utility companies around the state – the safety and reliability of service must be their top priority. Utilities must take proactive steps to ensure this result, and the Public Utilities Commission must enforce these principles.”
In September, CPUC issued a letter formally requesting the company take specific actions related to Long Beach’s rash of recent power outages. SCE issued a response in October, outlining the steps they had begun taking to identify the root cause of the outages and prevent such incidents from occurring again.
"The city spent valuable resources responding to the outages," said Mayor Robert Garcia at the time. "We expect SCE will work with the city to resolve these costs."