Planned Outages: A Necessary Inconvenience for Reliable Electricity

Each year, SCE conducts about 20,000 planned outages to perform upgrades to its 50,000-square-mile service territory.

September 04, 2013 | By Susan Cox

You may have seen the green and white postcard about planned outages that Southern California Edison (SCE) periodically sends out to its customers. But you may still have questions: Why would a planned outage happen during a hot summer day? Why does it take so long to get the lights back on?

In order to provide continuous safe, reliable power to its customers, SCE schedules thousands of planned outages each year as part of its $20 billion investment in infrastructure upgrades over the next five years. With an aggressive work schedule, it’s a challenge to complete all the necessary work. 

To help answer your questions about planned outages, we recently spoke with Ed Antillon, director of Distribution Construction and Maintenance South/East Division, Distribution Business Line, Transmission & Distribution. He helps explain the ins and outs of planned outages like the scheduling process, how customers are notified, and alternatives to scheduling outages during peak hours on summer days.


Q: How many planned outages does SCE schedule annually?

A: In order to make the necessary upgrades to its electric distribution network, SCE must conduct more than 20,000 outages every year.

Q: Has there been an increase or decrease in planned outages?

A: The amount of work that must be completed to reliably and safely serve SCE customers has increased significantly and requires the use of all available hours in the year. Updating SCE’s infrastructure requires that maintenance and equipment replacement be performed to ensure that unplanned outages are limited and the reliability of the system is not compromised

Q: What type of work is done during a planned outage?

A: In addition to inspection and maintenance activities, SCE must also replace components of its network and respond to customer requests such as supplying power to new homes or businesses.

Q: What factors does SCE take into consideration before scheduling an outage?

A: Although planned outages are generally shorter in duration and affect fewer customers than unplanned outages, SCE recognizes that any outage is inconvenient. Our objective is to minimize the impact that outages have on our customers. We do this by ensuring that there are adequate resources including field crews, materials and equipment, city/county/state permits are obtained, and our customers receive ample notification.

Other factors we consider are:

  • Public and employee safety.
  • The critical nature of electrical components to be replaced.
  • Regulatory requirements.
  • Whether or not critical services, such as fire stations or hospitals, will be interrupted.
  • City requirements such as constraints related to work hours and city street restrictions.
  • Holidays.

Q: How much advanced notice of a planned outage does SCE give its customers?

A: Notice is typically provided five days in advance of a planned outage.

Q: How are customers notified of scheduled outages?

A: SCE sends a brightly colored post card to impacted customers with the following information:

  • Why outages are important.
  • How to prepare.
  • Safety tips.
  • Where to get additional information.

To learn about outages, visit the SCE outage page.

Q. Are there alternatives to scheduling outages during peak hours on summer days (such as overnight as some customers have suggested)?

A. SCE schedules planned outages so they can be completed as safely and cost effectively as possible while minimizing inconvenience to our customers. Planned outages that are not performed could result in longer, inconvenient unplanned outages, sometimes due to catastrophic equipment failure. Most of our outages impact residential areas. We find that outages during the daytime on weekdays are preferred as most residents are less inconvenienced by an outage that occurs while people are either at school or work.  

Q. What impact does weather have on scheduling planned outages?

A. SCE continuously monitors weather conditions and considers extreme temperatures when determining whether to move forward with a scheduled outage. When temperatures are extreme for SCE’s service area, the company assesses the feasibility of rescheduling, deferring or mitigating outages on a case-by-case basis when there is no negative impact to the public, employee safety or service reliability.

Q. What is the amount of notice time SCE gives when a scheduled outage date will be rescheduled?

A. Notices of a rescheduled or cancellation are provided at least three days in advance whenever possible. However, unforeseen circumstances occasionally result in last minute cancellations.

Notifications are made via phone using SCE’s Interactive Voice Recording system up to and including those that are cancelled by noon the day before the scheduled outage. Same day cancellations are communicated to Medical Baseline and assigned business customers via SCE’s Automated Outage Communication system by email, text, voice and TTY.

Same day cancellations do not provide SCE with enough time to notify all residential customers that are currently not enrolled in the company’s Automated Outage Communication system.

Q. How does SCE handle complaints raised on its website?

A. SCE makes every effort to respond to all customer concerns. In many cases, the complaints are routed to the appropriate departments for a direct response. These responses are often routed to the company’s Contact Center or Consumer Affairs office where a representative will personally contact the customer to discuss their concerns.

Topics: Customer Service, Infrastructure