Southern California Edison officials tried to strike a conciliatory tone on Thursday during a state hearing on the company’s response to power outages caused by fierce winds that struck overnight Nov. 30.
“We can’t control the weather, but we can — and will — improve our response to it,” Edison President Ron Litzinger told members of the California Public Utilities Commission and about 200 residents who gathered at the Temple City High School auditorium.
Many in the audience heckled Edison officials and the commission. At one point, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy moved in to calm a man shouting accusations about officials hiding information from the public.
The Public Utilities Commission is investigating Edison’s response to extended power outages that at one point affected 226,000 customers across the San Gabriel Valley, according to the commission’s Consumer Protection and Safety Division.
Litzinger said Edison is conducting its own investigation, consulting with utility officials from hurricane-prone areas about how to better secure the power grid in the event of future windstorms.
Assembly members Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park) echoed previous criticism by residents that the company failed to provide timely and accurate information about when power would be restored.
“Lack of reliable information was the single biggest [complaint] I heard from folks,” Portantino said.
Temple City Mayor Tom Chavez was also critical of Edison’s communication with city officials.
“Believe it or not, we had the same 800 number that residents had,” he said.
Linda Ziegler, Edison’s executive vice president for power delivery services, said the utility struggled to communicate information because of the massive scope of the damage.
Edison also addressed accusations that some of the 200 utility poles that went down during the storm were so heavily loaded with equipment that they violated safety standards.
“The impression has been left that poles failed in this windstorm because they were overloaded. We think that conclusion could be premature,” Litzinger said. “We had many poles far above safety requirements that failed in this storm.”
He also said that if some poles were overloaded, telecommunications companies who share utility poles may be responsible.
Portantino said he would propose legislation requiring utilities to coordinate disaster planning with county officials once every two years.