Public Outrage Over SCE Public Safety Power Shutoff

SCE’s plan to pre-emptively shut off power during high-wind red flag days was received with community outrage and resistance. Luckily, all that was missing at the Malibu presentation were the pitchforks.

Southern California Edison workers and equipment wrangle out and replace another telephone pole—one of several recent upgrade projects announced by the company causing overnight and daytime power outages. Photo by Bonnie Morgan

Last month, Topanga residents received a letter from Southern California Edison (SCE) notifying them of its Wildfire Safety Program, which includes protocol for a Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) “to help keep our customers and communities safe,” and that SCE will be “hosting community meetings throughout our service territory very soon.”

In the letter, SCE defines PSPS: “When extreme fire conditions—such as high winds—present a clear danger to the public, we may shut off power in high fire risk areas.”  (sce.com/wildfire)

On August 27, SCE presented the PSPS Plan at a Malibu City Council meeting and was met with angry blowback from its customers.

KBUU General Manager Hans Laetz said that his radio station’s operating organization, Zuma Beach FM Broadcasters, has filed a lawsuit against the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) for its July 12 decision to let power companies pre-emptively turn off power to designated areas prior to red-flag Santa Ana wind events. Nonprofit KBUU-99.1 FM, Malibu’s only radio station, is a designated Federal Communications Commission emergency alert system broadcast facility.

Asked why he filed the lawsuit, Laetz said, “If I sit and wait, nothing happens. It works.”

In Topanga, following a meeting with SCE representative David A. Ford, Government Relations Manager, SCE Local Public Affairs, the newly formed ad hoc group, Topanga Community Alliance, directly addressed SCE President Ron Nichols, in a letter stating their strong opposition to the PSPS.

In the letter, six signatories representing Topanga Town Council, Topanga Chamber of Commerce, TASC, Canyon Sages, TCEP, and North Topanga Canyon Fire Safe Council, requested that “this poorly conceived program be immediately put on hold until the consequences of it can be properly understood. Furthermore, we recommend that SCE send a letter to affected SCE customers as quickly as possible, so residents and businesses are informed that the plan is under review and not currently under implementation.”

The letter concluded: “We understand that the power utility companies are very concerned about their liability for wildfire events, but the PSPS program has the potential of creating even greater liabilities.”

Copies of the letter were also sent to Kevin Payne, CEO of SCE; David A. Ford; Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and Susan Ng, District Director, West Valley & Mountain Communities; Senator Henry Stern; Assembly Member Richard Bloom; Malibu Mayor Rick Mullen; Fire Chief Daryl Osby, Los Angeles County Fire Department; and Kim Lamorie, President, Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation.

Resident Jane Terjung shared on Nextdoor Topanga, research by her sister, Neighborhood Network Lead Whitney McCleery who tallied the number of Red Flag days since 2016 based on e-mail alerts she received:

  • 2016 (19 days): Feb. 7-8; June 19-21; Sept. 23-26; Oct. 6-8; Oct. 18-20; Nov. 17-18; Dec. 2-3.
  • 2017 (27 days): Oct. 8-10; Oct. 13-15; Oct. 22-25 (plus excessive heat watch); Dec. 3-17, when CBS reported on December 14, that Southern California was approaching two straight weeks of Red Flag Warnings; Dec 21-22.
  • 2018 (8 days so far): Jan 27-29; Feb 6; Feb 10-11; July 6-7 (plus excessive heat watch).

In response to Terjung’s post that included other eye-opening statistics, one resident replied: This plan may have been “decided” a little too prematurely without sufficient community and legislative input.”

1 Comment
  1. It seems there are so many other options for SCE to improve safety during red flag days. For those of us that have electric cars, if there were a random intentional power outage we could be stranded and unable to leave home if needed. I wonder if this is a way for SCE to make sure they have enough power to keep air conditioners going in other areas. Can they put the power lines below ground?

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