Electrical Equipment Damage Seen Due to High Winds

A record dry December combined with strong Santa Ana winds has resulted in debris and toppled trees causing extensive equipment damage. Some impacted areas had power shutoffs due to PSPS.
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Stories : Safety
Stories : Safety

Electrical Equipment Damage Seen Due to High Winds

A record dry December combined with strong Santa Ana winds has resulted in debris and toppled trees causing extensive equipment damage. Some impacted areas had power shutoffs due to PSPS.

Sanger Samples, a troubleman with Southern California Edison for the past 13 years, was called out to Muir Street in Fillmore recently where he noticed extensive tree damage near the side of the road. The area has been especially windy the past few weeks — some wind speeds up to 70 mph — and very dry.

“I have not seen the winds this bad in quite some time. I have seen trees toppled and debris in our power lines,” said Samples, who works out of the utility’s Ventura Service Center. “We shut down circuits and if we hadn’t shut them off, I believe there would have been a good possibility of a wildfire.”

PSPS - Damage Assessment photos_Final
Strong Santa Ana winds damage electrical equipment.

Southern California is experiencing a very dry December with little to no rain forecast over the next two weeks. With each day that passes with no rain, the already dry vegetation is getting drier, weakening the health of the trees and shrubs which may not always be apparent. And that means an increase in wildfire danger. Like Fillmore, wind-blown debris and vegetation damaging equipment has been seen in several parts of SCE’s service where there were Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS).

This week, several counties — including Los Angeles, Orange, Kern, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura — had some customers affected by PSPS. At one point, 60,000 customers had their power turned off, some for more than 24 hours. These dangerous weather conditions are also happening when families are at home more during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A fallen tree breaks a power pole during strong Santa Ana winds.
A fallen tree breaks a power pole during strong Santa Ana winds. PHOTO: George Gonzalez

"Some of our customers have been shut off for one or two days, seems like every other week. I explain to the customers why they have been shut off, but you have to feel bad for them,” said Samples. “But I believe we are doing the right thing. PSPS is working, grid hardening is working.”

He added: “I believe PSPS has prevented wildfires.”

SCE compartmentalizes the local grid into sections to minimize the number of customers impacted by a shutoff on a particular circuit. Neighbors across from each other may be impacted differently if they are on different circuits. And even when there is no wind in your area, at the start of the circuit, sometimes a mile away, may be experiencing high winds.

When power is shut off due to PSPS, crews patrol the impacted areas to ensure debris and vegetation have not blown into equipment. When damage occurs, crews will be called in to make repairs. Once it is safe to do so, power will be restored.

Strong Santa Ana winds in Fillmore damage electrical equipment.
Strong Santa Ana winds in Fillmore damage electrical equipment. PHOTO: Sanger Samples

PSPS is part of SCE’s wildfire mitigation efforts that include the installation of hundreds of weather stations and wildfire cameras, predictive technologies, enhanced overhead inspections and insulated power lines.

Although undergrounding may be an option in some areas, the terrain in most high fire risk areas is hilly or mountainous and can pose significant engineering challenges. Undergrounding is also a more costly option compared to overhead equipment — more than 10 times the cost. Underground lines also require longer service interruptions for maintenance and repair work. As a result, SCE is prioritizing the use of insulated wires to reduce the risk of wildfires.

“Our customers expect and deserve to have reliable power. Some of our customers have expressed their concerns about our use of PSPS, but I believe this is something we must do to protect our communities from catastrophic wildfires,” said Kevin Payne, SCE president and CEO. “While we expect to reduce the number of PSPS events in the future as we enhance our mitigation efforts, PSPS has helped to reduce the risk of wildfires until that work can be completed.”

For more information: sce.com/PSPS.