Coalition challenges Edison's fees

Huntington Beach is among several cities calling on Southern California Edison to bring down the cost of street light maintenance and open its maintenance records to the public.

The Coalition for Affordable Street Lights, which includes Torrance, Huntington Beach, Moreno Valley, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland and Yorba Linda, has complained to the California Public Utilities Commission.

"The coalition was formed after we were unsuccessful in talking with Edison," said Aaron Klemm, Huntington Beach energy project manager.

The coalition asked that Edison slash the fees collected from these cities by half and start maintaining the street lights on a regular basis or sell the poles back to the cities at a reasonable cost.

A prepared statement from Edison said the company is working "closely with local governments and cities during the General Rate Case proceedings so we can work out viable solutions on the streetlight issue."

Edison charges Huntington Beach $1.8 million annually to own, operate and maintain about 13,000 street lights and poles citywide, Klemm said.

The money Edison charges Huntington Beach and other cities, which has increased annually by about 10% since 2006, was approved by the Public Utilities Commission based on a model Edison provided.

In addition to maintaining the street lights, the model calls for replacing poles every 35 years, Klemm said.

But that's not the case, at least in Huntington Beach, as several of its street lights, especially in its oldest parts at Playa Drive, Surfrider Lane and Islander Lane, among others, are out and the poles haven't been replaced.

"The city pays like those are fully operating," Klemm said. "The actual poles are much older than that and are not maintained like they told the Public Utilities Commission. But they're still collecting the money like they're replacing the poles at year 36."

Klemm couldn't tell how long the lights have been out, and that's either because Edison hasn't been able to determine that or because the company isn't willing to open its books, he said.

He suspects the poles are at least as old as the city's 40-year-old infrastructure.

Edison is not stopping there, Klemm said.

It is now asking the PUC to approve an indefinite, 5% increase in the cities' annual maintenance fees.

The cities have also found that Edison is giving developers discounts on installing new street lights but is requiring cities to fund that subsidy through their electric rates, Klemm said.

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