Maintenance Outages: What, When and Why
Nobody likes to be without electricity. However, maintenance outages are a necessity that requires electrical services be temporarily shut off to make planned infrastructure improvements, repairs and upgrades.
Last year, Southern California Edison performed about 30,000 maintenance outages across its service territory. That’s about double the amount from the year before. Through 2017, the utility expects to have 35,000 scheduled maintenance outages a year to maintain and upgrade infrastructure.
With this increasing and aggressive work schedule, it’s a challenge to complete all the necessary work needed to maintain a reliable electric grid while minimizing the impacts to customers.
We recently spoke with Phil Nelson, SCE director of Distribution Construction and Maintenance, about how customers are notified, the scheduling process and scheduling outages during peak summer hours.
Q: The number of maintenance outages is increasing. Why is that?
A: We want the power grid to be modern, reliable and up-to-date. From time to time, it’s necessary to temporarily turn off the power so our crews can safely install upgrades or make repairs to the grid. Doing so ensures that unexpected outages are limited and the reliability of the system is not compromised. The crews you see out in your community are doing this by replacing a transformer or underground cable or equipment.
Q: What type of work is being done during a maintenance outage?
A: Most maintenance outages are for replacement of components on SCE’s network. Other outages are associated with customer requests, such as supplying power to new homes or businesses. Also, as we integrate more of what is called distributed generation on our grid — such as rooftop solar or energy storage — it is imperative that our grid can handle new technologies while providing customers with safe and reliable electricity.
Q: What factors does SCE take into consideration before scheduling an outage?
A: Although maintenance outages are generally shorter in duration and affect fewer customers than repair outages, SCE understands that any ongoing maintenance work is an inconvenience, so we isolate outages down to the smallest area possible and complete the work as quickly as we safely can. We also try to identify all the potential work that we can do in a given area and package it into one project so we don’t have to schedule multiple outages. We do this by ensuring adequate resources are available — including field crews, materials and equipment — and appropriate permits are obtained and customers are notified. Other factors include:
- Public and employee safety.
- Criticality of electrical components to be replaced.
- Regulatory requirements.
- Impact to critical services, such as fire stations or hospitals, which will be interrupted.
- Governmental agency requirements such as constraints related to work hours and street or traffic restrictions.
- Major holidays.
Q: How much advance notice does SCE give its customers?
A: Notice is typically provided five days in advance of a maintenance outage. Communicating with customers is very important to us. They have a right to know exactly what’s going on with their service.
Q: How are customers notified of these scheduled outages?
A: SCE sends a brightly colored postcard to impacted customers with the following information:
- Why outages are important.
- How to prepare.
- Safety tips.
- Where to get additional information.
Q: Are there alternatives to scheduling outages during peak hours on summer days, such as overnight as some customers have suggested?
A: SCE schedules maintenance outages so they can be completed as safely and cost effectively as possible, while minimizing inconvenience to our customers.
Q: What impact does weather have on scheduling maintenance outages?
A: SCE continuously monitors weather conditions and considers extreme temperatures and other factors when determining whether to move forward with a scheduled outage. When temperatures are extreme, the company assesses the feasibility of rescheduling, deferring or mitigating outages on a case-by-case basis when there is no negative impact to the public, employee safety or service reliability.
Q: What is the amount of notice time SCE gives when a scheduled outage date is rescheduled?
A: Notices of a rescheduled or canceled outage are generally provided one to three days in advance, whenever possible. However, unforeseen circumstances occasionally result in last-minute cancellations. Notifications are made via phone up to and including those that are canceled by noon the day before the scheduled outage. Same-day cancellations are communicated to Medical Baseline and assigned business customers via SCE’s Automated Outage Communication system via email, text, voice and TTY.
Q: How does SCE handle complaints raised on its website?
A: If you have any questions or concerns, we are here to take your calls and answer your emails. SCE makes every effort to respond to all customer concerns. In many cases, the complaints are routed to the appropriate departments for a direct response. These responses are often routed to the company’s Contact Center or Consumer Affairs office where a representative will personally contact the customer to discuss their concerns.