AEC power outage leaves Anza residents in the dark

Keith Richardson browses the internet on his phone at the Anza Community Hall as the AEC generator provides power and lights on the night of Thursday, Dec. 7, during the power outage. Diane Sieker photo
Laptop computers, cell phones and more were charged at the Anza Community Hall as the AEC generator provides power and lights on the night of Thursday, Dec. 7, during the power outage. Diane Sieker photo
Despite no electrical power, the maintenance staff are working in Lake Riverside Estates, filling a barrel with non-potable water for a resident to be able to water her animals Thursday, Dec. 7, during the power outage. Diane Sieker photo

Anza Electric Cooperative, Inc. experienced a system wide power outage when Southern California Edison turned AEC’s system off as a safety precaution due to the high winds being experienced in the region Thursday, Dec. 7. No estimated time of when the power would be restored was known at the time.

“SCE has shut off power to the Idyllwild area in Riverside County at 11:47 a.m. … due to severe weather conditions. This action is being taken due to safety concerns for customers in the region. The power shut-off is now in effect and will continue until local conditions improve and crews determine it is safe to re-energize lines,” SCE announced on Social media in response to an inquiry posted there.

The action was taken due to safety concerns for customers in the Anza, Aguanga and Mountain Center areas in Riverside County due to severe weather conditions and extreme fire danger.

AEC anticipated the power to be restored by noon, but the lines were not re-energized until 10:20 a. m., Friday, Dec. 8.

The Anza Community Hall was open at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, to provide power, heat, lights and entertainment (free Wi-Fi), thanks to a generator brought in by the AEC. Cooperative technicians fueled and maintained the generator throughout the evening. The following day, the AEC office was open and provided free coffee and water.

“As always, Anza Electric strives for the highest possible reliability of our system, without sacrificing safety,” AEC General Manager Kevin Short said. “This doesn’t simply refer to the safety of our employees, although this is a primary concern in itself. We’re talking about the safety of our community. Ultimately, we continually work to find balance between our Member’s safety, their financial investment in our Cooperative, and the reliability and affordability of the utility services that we offer as a benefit of Membership.”

Any time the AEC experiences weather conditions associated with a Santa Ana wind event involving the deadly combination of high wind speeds and low humidity levels, there is a very real and present fire danger if trees are uprooted and fall into energized electrical lines. These conditions promote rapid ignition, acceleration and spread of wildfires, as seen elsewhere in California very recently.

“AEC is very diligent regarding brush removal and tree trimming to mitigate these risks; however, due to the rural nature of our community, it is not possible to completely eliminate them,” said Short. “Therefore, we agree with the practice of de-energizing lines if the risk is deemed too high. Our members deserve no less than our best efforts to protect their homes and families from the threat of wildland fire.”

The outage of Dec. 7 was the result of a decision by Southern California Edison, working with state fire officials, to eliminate fire threats on lines owned and operated by SCE. These lines feed AEC’s service territory as well as the Idyllwild/Pine Cove area.

According to Short, AEC management was contemplating the same decision, but had not yet arrived at a determination. As a result, SCE de-energized two circuits from their Nelson substation in Hemet feeding these communities. AEC was not consulted before this action, but supports the SCE decision, Short said.

“We were contacted by SCE customer service staff, and worked closely with them during the outage, coordinating resources regarding life support members, communications and outage restoration,” said Short.

AEC delivered a generator to the Anza Community Building, connected, checked and fueled it, enabling operation of the building as a true community resource until restoration of normal service. Residents affected by the outage were able to charge phones and laptops, gain access to the internet via ConnectAnza Wi-Fi and share news with others in attendance. The Cooperative also provided regular updates on the status of the outage via their messaging system, website, and social media.

Stories of neighbors helping neighbors, news about weather conditions and offers of help regarding procurement of water and emergency supplies flooded Facebook during the almost 24 hours of the outage. Many residents, both new and longtime, realized how unprepared they really were for such an interruption of electrical service. AEC kept up on the issues of its members, helping whenever they could.

“Additionally, we are developing a program with the Riverside County Office of Emergency Services to better assist our members in disaster preparedness and readiness,” said Short. More information on these courses will be announced as they become available.

For more information or to contact the Anza Electric Cooperative,  call (951) 763-4443 or visit them on the web at www.facebook.com/Anzaelectric/or www.anzaelectric.org.

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