A long-term project to improve the reliability of electrical services to the South Bay was the culprit that led to a power outage affecting some 100,000 customers and leading to the shut down of the Torrance refinery Tuesday morning, Southern California Edison said.
The private utility issued a statement Wednesday explaining what caused the outage beginning about 5:41 a.m. Tuesday. Power was restored by 7 a.m., but not before the refinery was forced to close, prompting an hourslong flaring of gas and a shelter-in-place order for surrounding areas.
The outage was caused by a “wiring error” made during a modification of a component at a Torrance substation. The modification was made as part of a multiyear project to improve reliability in the South Bay, Edison said.
When there was increased power use on Tuesday morning, following the long weekend that included Columbus Day, the outage occurred.
The wiring has been changed back and work on the reliability project won’t resume until a review is completed, Edison said.
The utility apologized for the outage, the second such incident in less than a month.
On Sept. 19, an offsite transformer failure caused the Torrance refinery to lose power, forcing it to shut down and flare off product.
“The flare is a safety device that refineries use to relieve pressure and ensure gases are safely combusted to minimize releases to the atmosphere,” the Torrance Refining Co. said in a statement.
In both instances, it took several days for the refinery to start up normal operations again.
“Following the last outage, we initiated discussions with SCE about improving their grid to the refinery and will obviously look to accelerate those discussions and action by SCE to provide more reliable electricity to the refinery and the community,” the refinery’s statement read.
Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey said he met Wednesday morning with the utility.
"We have to get the get the grid ... strong enough, stable enough so that the refinery can continue operation without these terrible interruptions," Furey said.
He noted the dramatic flaring can be frightening for people who don't understand the process is needed to relieve pressure in refinery systems when power is out.
Tuesday's outage at the refinery prompted a jump in spot market gasoline prices, leading to fears consumer prices at the pump could rise.
The refinery, purchased from Exxon Mobil by PBF Energy over the summer, has scheduled another flaring event beginning 9 p.m. Wednesday, according to regional air quality records. The flaring will continue for a week, through midnight Oct. 19.