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Rate hike goes to upgrades

Specific maintenance projects unclear for SoCal Edison’s local infrastructure

Posted: December 7, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 7, 2012 2:00 a.m.

 Southern California Edison plans upgrades and maintenance on equipment in the Santa Clarita Valley now that a 5 percent rate hike has been approved, a spokesman said this week.

But he said he could not pinpoint which specific upgrades and maintenance projects are planned for the region.

Edison had requested a 16.6 percent increase, but the California Public Utilities Commission approved a rate hike only to replace the aging electricity infrastructure and to better achieve the state’s environmental goals.

The commission also directed Edison to do more belt-tightening and make more efforts to be cost-effective.

Generally speaking, about half of each electrical consumer’s monthly payment goes toward the infrastructure and workforce that deliver power.

The other half goes toward purchasing electricity on the open market or generating it from Edison-owned operations.

Edison’s infrastructure-replacement program is intended to step up the replacement of hardware throughout the system to preserve reliability, said Russ Worden, director of general rate case for the Rosemead-based utility company.

There are 88,000 miles of distribution circuits — poles and electrical wires — that connect from streets to homes in California. Some 36,000 of those are underground, Worden said.

Many distribution circuits have exceeded the 25- to 30-year life span.

“I don’t know offhand what needs to be replaced in Santa Clarita,” he said.

Worden said the Santa Clarita Valley has 13 circuits, and they are checked for reliability several times a year.

Poorer-performing circuits are ranked based on need, and the worst-performing are targeted for replacement, according to Worden.

Edison also plans to inspect all transformers in the Santa Clarita Valley and replace them as needed, he said. New transformers have computer chips in them that allow the utility company to monitor the status of a transformer in the hope of isolating and shortening outages when they occur, as well as modernizing and monitoring the electric grid.

“We have plans to replace wires in a number of 66-kilovolt lines in the Santa Clarita area,” he said. “Those are the above-ground wires.”

Also, depending on the age of the underground circuits, some will be changed out to ensure reliability of service.

But the system overall is aging.

In the past few years, Edison has replaced about 150 miles of distribution circuits in its service areas each year, but the recent decision by the commission allows the company to double that amount and replace 300 miles per year.

Unlike transformers, which can be tested and monitored, there is no diagnostic test that allows the company to predict which lines of power distribution will fail or need service, Worden said. Overall, the Edison system, is fairly old with most of it built in the decades after World War II.

It’s been a balancing act, he said. The utility company has had the dual task of continuing to add customers and provide service despite the downturn in the economy.

Meanwhile, each household is generally consuming more electricity than at any time in the past.



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