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Assembly members Bradford and Lowenthal convene hearing to find answers to southwest blackout

October 28th, 2011 · No Comments · Community

Assembly Members Bonnie Lowenthal (D–Long Beach) and Steven Bradford (D–Gardena) led a joint hearing Wednesday to discuss problems and solutions stemming from the southwest-area power outage that disabled power for more than five million area residents in California and parts of Arizona and Mexico last month.
The outage affected customers of San Diego Gas & Electric Company, the Imperial Irrigation District, Southern California Edison (SCE), Arizona Public Service in the United States and Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) in Mexico.
The joint hearing of the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce and the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management included testimony from high-ranking officials with electricity reliability organizations and utilities, emergency responders, wireless communications providers, and wastewater facility operators. The session included time for members of the public to provide comment.
“Any time you have a failure like this in a major metropolitan area, you need to ask questions and get at the root cause of what went wrong,” said Bradford, who is chair of the Utilities and Commerce Committee. “Obviously, whatever safeguards were in place did not work. We need to fix that and identify steps we need to take to make the electricity system less vulnerable and quicker to recover.”
The outage, which occurred September 8, was caused when a 500-kilovolt, high-voltage line from Arizona went out of service, although it is not clear if the work on the transmission line was a single event or one of a number of other events that caused the outage to spread throughout the affected area.
San Diego City Hall was shutdown, classes at many schools were canceled, and the outage also triggered a 3-million gallon sewage release into the Los Penasquitos Lagoon and the Sweetwater Channel near the San Diego Bay and two wildlife preserves. In addition, some cellular tower service caused communication difficulties until backup systems were restored.
The hearing covered the various ways a major power outage can disrupt other residents and infrastructure, including vulnerable populations who rely on power for life-sustaining equipment, wireless phone service which can become overwhelmed in an emergency situation, and public safety.
“In the spectrum of possible disasters, this was fairly minor, but it certainly has focused the community’s interest in emergency planning, and we have to seize this opportunity to make sure we have the best plans possible,” said Lowenthal, who chairs the Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Planning.
In addition to chairs Bradford and Lowenthal, Assembly Members Fletcher, Hernández, Hueso, Atkins, Gaines, V.M. Perez, Block and Senators Kehoe and Vargas posed questions to the panelists.
“Obviously there are some deficiencies and vulnerabilities in the grid,” Bradford said. “This blackout is very glaring proof that we must make improvements and modernize the grid to ensure that it can handle our current and future demands.”

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