Friday, December 30, 2011

Can't We Just Fire Edison?

There is an interesting article up on the Pasadena Weekly's website entitled "Power Vacuum" (click here). It compares the performances of Southern California Edison and Pasadena's city-owned Pasadena Water and Power during the recent windstorm. It is the kind of stark match-up that you would expect the privately owned Edison to win easily. After all, aren't most privately owned business entities vastly superior on the service tip to their old and dowdy city government owned rivals?

Of course, in this case we are talking about a utility monopoly whose authority is so complete and utterly unchallenged in the cities where it operates that it actually does function in a kind of quasi-governmental sort of way. Edison, as a monopoly so deeply entwined with the City Halls in those municipalities it serves, can hardly be considered a purely capitalist operation. That would involve things like competition and an available array of alternative options for consumers to choose from. Obviously we have none of that sort of thing here.

And as we have seen in some of the recent City Council discussions on solar panels, even if you choose what should be the "off the grid" option of solar energy, Edison will still be there to collect money, especially the City's UUT hit. Which to me takes away the one real appeal of going solar. As the producer of your own electricity through the purchase of expensive solar power panels and associated equipment, shouldn't you be permitted some level of independence from all that?

So how did Edison stack up against Pasadena Water and Power? According to the Pasadena Weekly, not so very well. This from John Grula of the Southern California Federation of Scientists:

Even taking into account its larger size, Pasadena was perhaps the hardest hit of all the communities, with at least 1,200 downed trees and $20 million in damages. The wind gusts in Pasadena were as high, and perhaps even higher than, winds in surrounding areas. Nevertheless, according to Erica Rolufs, a spokesperson for PWP, only 10 percent of PWP customers (businesses and homes) lost power. Among those that did, within 48 hours the number of customers without power had been reduced to less than 1 percent.

How did it go for SCE customers? According to the Pasadena Weekly and the Valley Sun, the entire town of Altadena experienced a complete blackout. Everyone I know in Altadena lost power, including me. In La Canada Flintridge, 100 percent of homes and businesses lost power, according to Rabo Parseghian, a management analyst in Public Works. Sierra Madre? More than 90 percent of residents and businesses lost power, according to Public Information Officer James Carlson.

The other SCE cities John Grula cites here are Monrovia (75-80% outages), San Marino (100% blacked out), and Temple City (75% of SCE customers lost power). Grula then goes on to make this rather telling observation:

So in terms of maintaining the delivery of electricity during a bad windstorm, it is obvious that PWP was far superior to SCE. In addition, there have been numerous reports about how slow SCE was in restoring electricity to its powerless and shivering customers.

SCE's performance was so bad, that it has been roundly criticized by politicians across the political spectrum, from Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff to Republican LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. Furthermore, on Dec. 7 the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) announced it will investigate the reasons for the "prolonged power outages" in SCE's service area. Until now, the PUC has not launched an investigation of any other Southern California utility.

All pretty much damning evidence showing that power goliath Southern California Edison just could not get the job done right for its customers. And just to throw in my own anecdotal evidence of Edison ineptitude, when our uber utility was whining (there is no other word for it) about how debris blocked streets and downed trees were making it impossible to get equipment into many Sierra Madre neighborhoods, I had a ridiculously large crane at my house at the top of Grove Street pulling a 16 ton eucalyptus tree off my roof. The red tag I had received from the City for having that bad boy draped across mi casa was gone after one single day.

In a purely market driven economy we as consumers, faced with such disastrously bad service, would normally have the option of taking our business elsewhere. So do we have the option of turning our back on SCE and choosing another utility company? Maybe even Pasadena Water and Power?

Look at it this way. We do share some things with Pasadena, including a public school district. It is possible for us to share services with our rather large neighbor to the west. So why can't we ditch the failed utility we are stuck with now and opt for a company with a record for superior service?

Of course, Edison's decrepit infrastructure here might be so bad that PWP couldn't afford to take us on. I don't want to get anybody's hopes up too high.

But that said, I think that the City of Sierra Madre should start exploring our options here. The abused and poorly served electricity consumers of Sierra Madre deserve just that kind of hearing.

Extra! Vote in these Pasadena Star News polls

2011 Top Stories Vote: "A 90-year-old Santa Anita employee saves 6-year-old girl from runaway horse." Click here and scroll down a little. Look left.

Also: "Do you agree with the State Supreme Court decision on redevelopment agencies?" Click here and scroll down to around mid-page.

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26 comments:

  1. Just cast my votes. I can't believe the 'no' vote on the redevelopment question is winning.

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  2. At 6:50 am John Shear is winning with 38% of the vote! Total votes? 39.

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  3. From the Pasadena Star News comment section

    Kim Goddard The only blight in CA for the last 60 years has been the redevelopment agencies, the fall out will be cities that used rev dev funds improperly and comingled trust accounts to prop up their budgets. It will open up a free market, stop the favoritism, and under the table payola to council people and unscrupulous developers. I am grateful to gov Brown and humbled by the wisdom of the CA supreme court. Like Mr. Sutton said he has lots of clients. Better read this quick, these papers seem to remove my comments within minutes

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  4. 6:13, it's 82 to 81 now!

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  5. Edison is a big self-satisfied near monopoly - so it really is more like a frustratingly slow government organization than a business.

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  6. SCE has requested a 16% increase in your rates.
    Maybe with all that new money we will get better service.


    Here is the link to the pdf on the General rate Case for 2012 if you want the whole enchilada.
    http://www3.sce.com/sscc/law/dis/dbattach3e.nsf/0/AC215F321506F4BA882577E30022A241/$FILE/S01.pdf

    Here is the link to the PR page on your increase
    http://www.sce.com/CustomerService/rates/rate-change/mar-2011.htm

    Here is a LA Times article on it
    http://articles.latimes.com/2008/jul/02/business/fi-ratehike2


    Neuroblast Films

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  7. Would it even be possible to switch electricity providers?
    Sure, the same way it would be possible to hire sheriffs like La Canada does, saving a million dollars a year, and get rid of the PD that takes 52% of our budget.
    If it's something that will save Sierra Madre residents money, it won't be investigated.

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  8. Vote and vote often, because every time you do an angel gets its wings.

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  9. Can you vote more than once from the same computer 7:58?

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  10. John Shear is kicking butt on that Star News poll. If it was a horserace the rest of the ponies would still be in the starting gate.

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  11. Yes, you can, 8:01. But you have to turn your computer off and start it up again.

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  12. Because of this article we will probably have to endure another 30 minute speech at the next City Council meeting from an Edison PR flack during public comment. Oh my aching head.

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  13. I have a little square plaque that was given to me by edison in 1980, I worked at corporate office on walnut grove for about 6 months, I was offered a permanent position but declined. I also was hired to proofread classified bonds on another occassion. SCE like the old AT & T monopoly that was broken in about 1982 or 83, should be broken too. When researching the water rate increases, I saw that Edison had increased it's rates by 700 percent and I believe they are asking for more. The stats are on the state of Ca website as DRA or "division of rate payer advocates", they are there to protect us from being abused more then we already are by utility companies. It is a good read.

    Corporate itself is a small city, highly political and competitive. A lot of throat cutting and pressure to have employees make contributions to keep their jobs.

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  14. @8:05: restarting is unnecessary, as the IPCONFIG /RELEASE then ?RENEW command does the same thing. Neither action, however, guarantees that your IP address will be reset. That is usually controlled by you ISP, unless you are operating on a managed network with dynamically assigned IP range or static IPs assigned to you device.

    You can vote multiple times if you use different devices.

    Happy New Year!

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  15. We have 3 computers in our household. All of them have now voted.

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  16. Excellent article John, but you fail to mention one unusual twist. Our current Mayor, John Buchanan is an employee of SCE. Our former Mayor, Enid Joffe was an employee of SCE. Neither had enough clout with that utility to have the power in our fair burg restored in a timely fashion.

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  17. And while we're at it, lets get rid of Time Warner Cable !!!

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  18. Can't we fire Buchanan and give Edison another chance?

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  19. That's why companies like Edison give their employees the free time to run for city offices. They want to have influence in local government so that they can keep their meathooks in our pocketbooks. You can see Buchanan in town any weekday when most wage earners are somewheres else working.

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  20. If Edison sees their interests under threat here they may require John to run for a third term.

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  21. Off topic, but this is the Tattler. Does anyone know why Josh Moran didn't make it to the Marilyn Diaz send off last night? He was listed as a scheduled speaker.

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  22. I wasn't there, 9:29. But I do have a question. Was there anybody wearing a kilt in attendance?

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  23. That was my complaint, Nueroblast, during the blackout here in town: rate increases on an almost quarterly basis from Edison, but response times during this emergency situation were dismal. What are we paying for, if not better service? SCE is a monopoly, just as So Cal Gas (Sempra) is - and they are both run like huge bureaucracies, much like AT&T. They might as well be government run based on their performance in the markets which they respectively monopolize. They have all choked out the competition and now have us, their subscribers, at a distinct disadvantage.

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  24. Ohh Nooooooooooo...

    The Tattler has gone PURPLE!!!

    Shades of Darth Wistaria!!

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  25. At some time every resident of Sierra Madre succumbs to some affiliation, no matter how brief, with Wisteria purple.....

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  26. It is supposed to be festive New Years colors. I guess I'll change them. Not sure I like the way it looks either.

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