California Eyes Pole Overloading, Safety Issues

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CA public utilitiesOfficials in the Golden State are reviewing California utility pole safety regulations after determining that a 2007 Malibu Canyon fire likely was caused by a trio of top-heavy electric wire poles snapping during heavy winds. They then caught fire and burned almost 4,000 acres. During a May 12 meeting in Sacramento of the California Public Utilities Commission, members were presented with several reports detailing pole problems throughout the state that seem to begin with a lack of up-to-date state inspections. In an effort to improve pole safety, CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division filed a petition to modify General Order 95 on May 6, 2016, to enhance CPUC’s ability to enforce safety rules.

In its “Pole Safety Report,” CPUC said, “Communication Infrastructure Providers (CIPs) are primary offenders for overloading poles” and the report added  “CPUC staff do not have citation authority over CIPs, only electric utilities.”

On April 28, CPUC Commissioners and staff toured the site of the fire that destroyed 14 structures, including Castle Kashan and Malibu Presbyterian Church, burnt three dozen vehicles and injured three firefighters. CPUC required Southern California Energy and several telcos to pay over $460 million in damages as a result of the fire.                                                 

CPUC said it is the only public utility commission in the U.S. to have a dedicated electric safety program. In its report delivered last week, officials said “other states require compliance with the National Electric Safety Code, but don’t have an enforcement program or dedicated electric safety staff. “

CPUC cites electric utilities for violations, reviews and approves utility expenditures for pole maintenance and replacement, and performs risk-based analysis of pole safety for use in rate cases.

The April tour was part of the commission’s Safety En Banc program intended “to begin a high-level discussion of the state of pole safety not limited to a specific incident, industry or service territory, and to identify areas for improvement,” CPUC said. The officials are pushing the CPUC’s 2016 Safety Action, which seeks to drive a safety culture.

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