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California Utility To Pay Fine For Role In Power Outage

A family sits out on the porch during the San Diego blackout on Sept. 8, 2011.

Above: A family sits out on the porch during the San Diego blackout on Sept. 8, 2011.

Aired 1/24/14 on KPBS News.

A California utility has agreed to pay fines and upgrade its system following a power outage two years ago that affected millions of people in the Southwest.

A California utility has agreed to pay fines and upgrade its system following a power outage two years ago that affected millions of people in the Southwest. A federal investigation identified six utilities in Arizona and California that were involved in the blackout. The Imperial Irrigation District will pay a $12 million fine for its role in a power outage two years ago that affected millions of people in in the Southwest but will not have to admit liability.

On September 8, 2011, a blackout started at a substation north of Yuma. Within minutes, the outage cascaded across western Arizona, southern California and northern Mexico. Initially a utility worker performing maintenance at the substation was blamed. Before it was over, nearly 7 million people lost power for up to 12 hours.

The district provides water and energy services for customers in Imperial County, Calif. The commission found that operators could have prevented the outage if they had better awareness and better planning. According to the district, the settlement calls for $3 million to be paid to regulators and the remaining $9 million to be spent on physical improvements to the district’s delivery system.

Federal investigators said one of the utilities responsible was Arizona Public Service. Damon Gross said APS has made changes even though the federal review is not complete.

"One of the lessons learned is that there could be better coordination among the entities involved, and then we’ve also implemented some better training and other activities to make us a better utility," Gross said.

There is no word yet on whether other utilities involved have reached settlements with federal regulators.

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