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Consultant hired to evaluate SoCal Edison performance presents findings to La Cañada City Council

La Cañada Flintridge residents experienced 2,371 power outages between 2006 and 2016 — a failure rate higher than Southern California Edison’s systemwide average — according to the results of a consultant report commissioned to evaluate the utility’s local reliability and service.

Among those outages, 533 were determined to be related to overhead conductors damaged by wind and trees, while 268 were the result of animals interfering with transformers and wires, consultants with Los Angeles-based PMCM told the LCF City Council in a presentation Tuesday.

“SCE’s overall average is better than it is in the city,” said Bina Vatanpour, a project manager with the firm, explaining La Cañada’s performance ranks low among areas served by Edison’s Monrovia District. “You’re probably one of the worst in the district.”

Vatanpour provided an overview of the city’s power distribution system, which comprises four substations containing a total of 24 circuits. He explained how the firm was tasked to investigate the number of and reason for outages occurring in the past decade, review response times and analyze the age and conditions of existing infrastructure throughout La Cañada.

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PMCM was also asked to make a series of recommendations for infrastructure and reliability improvements that might be made.

As part of its $27,700 contract, the firm considered not just the number of outages, but the cumulative amount of time customers went without power. The results showed La Cañada Edison customers experienced less reliable service than the average customer served by the Monrovia District, of which La Cañada is a part.

“The infrastructure here in La Cañada Flintridge, because the equipment is older, it’s stressed more than any other community,” PMCM principal Reggie Wright told council members.

One example of aging infrastructure is the Sharon Substation, a La Crescenta facility that currently serves about 458 La Cañada customers. Consultant engineers said estimated 76-year-old transformers and 57-year-old circuit breakers employ an outdated 4kV technology, and recommended the station be closed.

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When one circuit is down, Vatanpour said, the entire substation goes down. For that reason, he added, Edison plans to retire the facility and redistribute its load to other nearby substations.

Consultants looked at inspection records and conducted interviews with Edison officials over two interviews in June, mining whatever data the utility was able to provide for a two-month period before presenting their initial findings to city staff in August.

In previous conversations, city staff sought a recommendation about whether La Cañada should potentially explore service agreements with other utilities, such as Pasadena or Glendale water and power, but consultants speaking at Tuesday’s meeting made no mention of the feasibility of such a switch.

Instead, PMCM recommended communicating to Edison officials certain priorities, such as replacing transformers at the already overburdened La Cañada Substation and underground cable-in-conduit cables that often malfunction due to concrete collapse and tree root incursion.

City officials should also push for the replacement of PCB transformers, which pose a public health risk, and the installation of larger or more heat resistant transformers that can handle when La Cañada’s ambient temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the consultant reported.

Wright suggested looking at the data for the five worst performing circuits and asking that they be made a priority for Edison improvements.

“From our conversations with Edison, they’re willing to improve the numbers,” he said. “It’s more (about) giving them the proper direction.”

Adrian Garcia, an appointed liaison between the city and utility provider, said Tuesday the utility received PMCM’s findings Friday and would be analyzing the data to see what could be done.

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“We’ll take those recommendations into account and review them as part of an assessment,” Garcia said. “We are committed to working with the city.”

City Manager Mark Alexander said staff will provide an update to the council at a future meeting on the progress of talks with Edison officials, and any game plan that might be developed for targeted improvements in the future.

In other news

Also Tuesday, the council heard a presentation from Community Development Director Robert Stanley on the average time it takes to process planning cases, and considered ways to adequately evaluate and improve those timelines from the 2016 average of 2.8 to 4.7 months. Ultimately council members supported forming a subcommittee with planning staff to see how helpful data might be obtained.

Council members also received an update on the county’s Devil’s Gate Dam sediment removal project, stalled last year after local environmental groups challenged aspects of the EIR for the three- to five-year removal of 2.4 million cubic yards of post-storm sediment.

Preparation for the dig, scheduled to begin this fall, has been moved to fall 2018, traffic engineer Farhad Iranitilab said. Hauling hours and routes along Oak Grove Drive and Berkshire Avenue are also being discussed, since La Cañada High School changed its start time from 7:45 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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