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SoCal Edison calls in outside help to diagnose Long Beach vault explosions

A vault explosion and subsequent power outage left an estimated 30,000 people without power on Thursday, July 30, 2015.
A vault explosion and subsequent power outage left an estimated 30,000 people without power on Thursday, July 30, 2015.
Courtesy City of Long Beach Twitter account

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Southern California Edison has asked outside experts to help it investigate the causes of a string of power outages that left thousands of its customers in the dark in Long Beach over the past month.

Edison's internal investigation runs parallel to one by the state Public Utilities Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities like Edison.

Long Beach city officials say Edison's got some explaining to do.

"There are a lot of residents who still have questions unanswered," said Long Beach City Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez, who represents downtown residents. Two incidents where underground electrical vaults caught fire and exploded last month cut power to thousands of residents for a combined five days.

Two more outages struck this past weekend a few miles to the north, also in her district. Those were heat-related.

"They just want to know how is it still happening," she said, adding that Long Beach is one of Edison's largest service areas.

So far, Edison has been tight-lipped in publicly speaking about the causes of the vault explosions that sent manhole covers flying. The company blames bad cable splices for the vault failures, but has not described an underlying reason why the splices were installed, or went, bad. The company has also declined to say if its vault inspection program was up to date.

Spokesman David Song says Edison has hired an out-of-state consultant, Davies Consulting of Chevy Chase, Maryland, to conduct its internal investigation.

"Hopefully working with Davies Consulting, we can get to the bottom of it, but I'm not sure what the root cause is," Song said.

Gonzalez called Edison's answers "vague" when she asked the company about its inspection of downtown electrical vaults after the mid-July explosions. "I still haven't gotten any update," she said.

Nearly 500 customers lost power at 12:04 a.m. when heat caused a cable to malfunction in an underground vault near Lakewood Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway. Edison had to turn off power to about 19,000 customers to fix the problem, Song said.

Another heat-caused outage about 8:39 a.m. Saturday took about 700 customers offline for about an hour.

Long Beach residents can voice their questions this Saturday. Mayor Robert Garcia and Several local lawmakers have called a Town Hall meeting where Edison has agreed to face the public. The meeting is at 10:30 a.m. at Cesar Chavez Park in Long Beach.