Electrical outages spark meeting on problems’ solutions

| March 30, 2023 | 0 Comments

SPECULATION about all of the the causes of local power outages remains

Residents ‘deserve a resilient… power grid’

Major storms in January and February left many residents in Windsor Square and Hancock Park without power for multiple days. Those affected dealt not only with the extended outages but also with confusing messaging as to when power would be restored.

Banding together to try to get answers and to put pressure on Dept. of Water and Power (DWP) and city officials to ensure the recent experiences aren’t repeated, residents organized a Zoom meeting on March 6.

The meeting was attended by Council District 5’s Katy Yaroslavsky and members of her team, Council District 13’s Hugo Soto-Martinez and representatives from the DWP. DWP participants were Chief Operating Officer Aram Benyamin; Director of Power, Transmission and Distribution Walter Rodriguez and Senior Assistant General Manager for Power Systems and Construction, Brian Wilber. Many concerned community members also signed on. President of the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, Cindy Chvatal-Keane, moderated. She reported that there were 200 participants.

Said Soto-Martinez at the meeting, “Hopefully we can learn from this because the second-largest city of the country should not be dealing with these issues.” Yaroslavsky echoed his sentiments saying residents “deserve a resilient and reliable power grid.” She went on to say that it appears there are particular underground utility vaults having issues and that the system in general is outdated in some areas. “The grid is particularly old in Hancock Park,” she said. “The extensive rains are just a preview of what’s going to come as climate change continues to intensify. We need to be thinking of long-term climate resiliency — both when it’s really wet and when it’s really hot and the grid is strained under opposite conditions. We have a real opportunity and, I would say, an obligation, to do that work now, so that outages like we just experienced don’t become the new normal.”


Asked what was a main cause of the Hancock Park / Windsor Square outages, Rodriguez said there was an underground transformer serving the area that failed. It had to be located and fixed. “Basically, you have to turn the system on and off… locate the problem… isolate it, and try to get as many customers online as you can,” said Rodriguez. This is very time consuming, he added. DWP has to make sure protocols are followed and crews are kept safe while doing the underground work, especially when water is involved.


The answer to why it took multiple days to get everyone back online was multifaceted. “We have 1.5 million customers in the metro area,” said Rodriguez. Rains hit hard in January and February saturating the ground and causing trees to fall over on power lines throughout the city. Hazardous areas have to be dealt with first. Next, crews start working on areas with the largest amounts of customers affected, and they work through affected areas until power is restored.

When Chvatal-Keane pushed for specifics on staffing, DWP officials said the department is seriously understaffed. “We are at about 50 percent of what we want, and need, to get to over the next five years. We had every available crew working, but we are short-handed. We are continuing on ramped-up hiring so we can meet goals,” said Wilber.

“Understaffing,” said Soto-Martinez, “is an issue every department is facing. We are working on our end on this issue.”

The department is looking to “harden the system in the overhead and in the underground. We want to make it more of a water-tight system,” said Rodriguez. The DWP is looking to address outages caused by trees and on the ground.

Benyamin said, “We put in [requests] for water infrastructure hardening and replacement funds,” including for grants from the federal Department of Energy (DOE), one of which is for a transmission upgrade grant of $436 million.

Residents can help inform the DOE’s selection of grant awardees by making sure it hears from people in the community that the area is deserving of the funds. The DWP will be reaching out to residents in the coming months to appeal for support calls to the city’s delegation of federal elected officials.


The actual outages, however, were not residents’ only concern. Outage maps and messaging to those without power were incorrect or inconsistent. This caused confusion and riled many tempers.

The automated system currently in place takes in information based on phone calls received and similar information, and it then automates outage responses. When the system gets overloaded, false information appears on the site. “This is what we really need to look at — when our system is overloaded, how can we make it… have accurate information?” said Rodriguez. He said this definitely would be looked at in the after-action plan.

Chvatal-Keane asked about the timeframe for fixing the issues discussed. Said Yaroslavsky, “The council offices will be checking in regularly with the DWP… and will come up with an accountability plan so that what is said is going to happen actually happens. We’ll be in communication with our constituents about timing and how it’s working. These are not small projects that need to be undertaken… but it’s safe to say we see this as a real problem.”

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