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Maintenance Outages are Inconvenient, But Here’s Why We Do Them

Roger Heldoorn, one of SCE’s district managers overseeing maintenance outages in Riverside County, sat down with Inside Edison to explain.
By David Song

You get a letter in the mail or a text alert saying a maintenance power outage is scheduled for your address. Your first thoughts — is my food going to be OK? Will my dogs stay cool in the afternoon heat? Will my kids be able to cope without Wi-Fi and the electronic devices they use that depend on it?

It’s a temporary inconvenience, but one that SCE understands is a disruptive experience for the daily routine of its customers. The company has averaged more than 30,000 maintenance outages since 2015 across its 50,000-square-mile territory and 5 million customers. It’s likely that somewhere in SCE’s vast service area, someone is experiencing a maintenance outage as you’re reading this.

We sat down with Roger Heldoorn, a district manager overseeing a large portion of Riverside County, to talk about why SCE has maintenance outages and their long-term benefits.

Volume of Maintenance Outages

This is something we need to do to provide safe, reliable service for our customers today and into the future. There are many reasons for the high volume of outages, but the two primary reasons why we do maintenance outages is to either replace aging infrastructure or to upgrade and modernize the grid. For the next few years we expect the volume of maintenance-related work to remain high, however, we are working hard to minimize the impacts to our customers.

Replacing Old Infrastructure

In addition to the 1.4 million poles and more than 100,000 miles of power lines in our service territory, SCE has millions of pieces of equipment and devices that have to be maintained. We have an aging grid built in the post-World War II era. It’s served us well, but in order to improve reliability and prepare for the future, we need to replace our infrastructure and improve it on a larger scale.

The Whys of a Maintenance Outage

Maintenance outages may be required when we are replacing multiple segments, or sometimes many miles, of underground cable or overhead conductors. We’re replacing aging poles that have been reliable for us, but are at the end of their life cycle. New poles will serve customers for many more years.

More importantly, we’re looking to the future and how customers are changing the way they use electricity. Not only do we have to replace equipment, but we’re installing new technology to improve the grid and to accommodate the ways that customers now interact with the local grid.

Maintenance Outages for a Clean Energy Future

SCE has a vision to provide customers a pathway for a clean energy future. It’s what a majority of California residents want. On a state level, we’re on a mission to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and ultimately reduce those emissions 80 percent under 1990 levels by 2050. Maintenance outages are tied to this goal. In many instances we’re doing planned work to make this vision come to life.

Minimizing the Impact of Maintenance Outages

We always ask ourselves, “Have we done everything we can to minimize the geographic footprint of the outage? Are we only impacting the customers that absolutely need to be a part of the outage?”

We start by looking at the proposed location to see if we can combine several jobs so we don’t have to come back with another outage for other work. We also prepare a program that allows us to re-route power around an outage so as few customers as possible are impacted. The last thing people want is for us to come back to the same area a few months later for another maintenance outage.

The outage scope is submitted to Grid Operations to have the switching program written and reviewed 14 to 18 days prior to the outage. The switching program allows us to re-route power around the outage to as many customers as possible. You can think of them as road detours for electricity to avoid the construction area.

We also take into consideration holidays, religious observations and major events in our outage planning, working with communities so any scheduled maintenance outage is minimally disruptive to our customers.

Customer Notification

Letters and door hangars with details of the outage are mailed out three days in advance. If customers have signed up for additional electronic communications, they will receive a notice via text, email, automated phone recording or TTY seven to 11 days in advance.

Customer Preparation for a Maintenance Outage

Customers should shut off or disconnect all sensitive electronics before the outage to prevent damage or loss of data. If they have an automatic garage opener or their community has a security gate, customers should review the instructions and learn how to operate them manually.

If customers have an alarm system, they should alert their security company of the outage. The outage will affect alarm systems and may affect private phone systems.

More information is available on SCE.com, including information on how to stay safe and keep SCE workers safe if a customer operates a generator during an outage.

Maintenance Outages in Extreme Weather

SCE conducts more than 30,000 maintenance outages a year across its territory. We try to plan as many outages as possible in the milder months, but with the aggressive maintenance schedule and the volume of work, we must do some of the work in the summer.

Having said that, we’re taking a thoughtful approach to how we operate in the hotter months. When the temperature hits 105 degrees or even when the temperature is lower, but the heat index is at that threshold, we may shift the work hours to the evening to avoid outages during peak temperatures or cancel the outage-related work altogether.

Exceptions for Maintenance Outages in Extreme Heat

We are here to serve our customers. Some work may have to proceed for public safety or to prevent an emergency and a longer, more drawn-out repair outage. Outages always take much longer to restore when they are unplanned. If the work is not critical, the maintenance outage will be canceled.

When we need to have a maintenance outage our customers deserve the shortest duration possible. We also want customers to understand that we consider all external factors balanced by our desire to provide a reliable grid. Ultimately, our goal is to do everything we can to provide a positive customer experience by minimizing the impacts of an outage as much as possible and providing timely and accurate information on their outage.

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