Cuthbert Was Blacked Out More Than 60 Hours Last Year, SCE Figures Reveal

Written by on May 24, 2021


New reliability statistics from Southern California Edison show that the average Malibu power customer was in the dark for 1,478 minutes during 2020, a cumulative set of electric failures that is seven times worse than the SCE average.

And in the trouble-plagued Cuthbert Circuit, serving Paradise Cove and Point Dume, saw 3,656 minutes of blackouts last year – that’s more than 60 hours of cumulative no service.

The numbers come from the 2020 SCE Circuit Reliability Review, an annual report that the state requires SCE to produce. Most years, SCE sends representatives to the Malibu City Council to explain the figures, and to explain what steps are being taken to improve what some residents call “third world electrical service.”

This year, Edison has not been on the agenda to explain. 

Edison has 4,600 circuits across Southern California, each serving about 1,000 customers, and 119,000 miles of power lines.

Malibu’s eight circuits have been a particular set of problems. The company has in years past blamed the physical layout of Malibu, where circuits do not sit surrounded by other circuits that can be tied into during failures.

The company says it replaced 97 miles of overhead power lines replaced for public safety last year, out of those 119,000 miles of lines. It also replaced 14,700 power poles.

That may be small comfort to Cuthbert circuit customers, who have been particularly hit hard by intentional and accidental blackouts. Fifty-two percent of the 60 hours of outages were intentional, as the power company tried to reduce its legal exposure for power pole or power line flashovers.

SCE said 33 percent of the outages on Cuthbert were weather related, and Edison has in the past said that severe fog was responsible for several blackouts.

SCE officials have also in the past said that fog-related explosions and fires were caused by dirt and grime, which accumulates on insulators and other components. When the dirt gets wet, electricity flows into the ground, causing wooden elements to heat and eventually burn.

Other Malibu circuits also showed very-high outage totals:

– the Merlin Circuit, with 1,047 customers near Puerco Canyon, saw 942 minutes;

– the Serra Circuit, with 313 customers near Billionaire’s Beach, saw 501 minutes;

– the Gallahad Circuit, with 1,764 customers in the Malibu Park area, 418 minutes; and

– the Seaboard Circuit’s 87 customers in the Civic Center area saw 358 minutes with no power.

Again, the SCE service area average is 201 minutes of blackouts.

The 2020 figures do not include the dramatic outages caused by the Woolsey Fire in 2018. The average Malibu customer in 2018 was dark an astounding 212 cumulative hours. Some parts of Malibu were out for 477 hours in the year that Woolsey hit.

In Sacramento, a proposed crackdown on SCE and other power companies over sloppy and excessive intentional power outages has moved forward in the state Senate. The bill has been authored by Malibu’s state Senator, Henry Stern.

Stern’s bill, if passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, would require SCE to identify circuits that have frequently been blacked out, and to come up with plans to stop them.

It would require SCE to reduce the need for future blackouts, including replacing, hardening, or undergrounding parts of circuits.

The bill would also require the company to cooperate with any city that wants to set up a microgrid, which is an area that can be detached from the SCE grid and kept powered up during regional blackouts using batteries or solar panels.

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