By Vince Basehart
At the corner of Lincoln and Colorado
sits the Southern California Edison
Santa Monica Distribution Substation.
It's the facility which resembles
a death ray generator out of a 1950s
sci-fi comic book, crowded with metal
towers, massive circuit breakers,
transformers and other scary-looking,
buzzy electrical things.
All of this giant-sized hardware
and crisscrossing cables sits on a
space about the size of a small city
park, intersected by a rutted alleyway.
The Lens is no electrician, but recently
it became clear to him, while peering
through the 10-foot high, razor wire-topped
chain link fence, that this was no
place to be while wearing a suit of
armor during a thunderstorm. If the
throbbing hum of massive amounts of
electricity coursing through the place
isn't enough to warn you off, Edison
has posted signs every few feet. Each
"DANGER – Keep Out! High
Voltage Inside. Will cause severe
injury or death. Do not enter this
Beneath these words is the ever hapless
stick figure, featured in many "Caution
-- Slippery Floor" signs, this
time in mid-air after having been
smote by a jagged lighting bolt.
However dangerous this facility may
be to trespassers, the job of this
distribution substation is to deliver
safe, reliable power to the homes,
businesses and streets of 18,000 citizens
of our fair city.
The substation serves basically as
a finishing school for electricity.
The juice begins life at a far-away
plant as raw, rowdy power, where it
gets revved up even more at a step-up
transmission station in order make
its long journey through lines traversing
the Golden State. By the time it reaches
the corner of Lincoln and Colorado,
the electricity is as high strung
and hazardous as King Kong jacked
up on Red Bull.
It takes cables as thick as ship's
hawsers to channel the hundreds of
thousands of volts into the substation's
step-down transformers -- vault-like
boxes set into the gravel covered
ground -- which reduce the voltage
into refined, well-mannered power.
Without this process you would blow
a smoking hole in your kitchen every
time you tried to toast a Pop-Tart.
There are other services which the
substation provides, without complaint,
24/7. Once the transformers have broken
down the voltage into useable levels,
it is sent to one of a dozen or so
giant aluminum can-looking things
with ceramic wands sticking off of
them. These are the "buses,"
the Grand Central station of the electricity
world, responsible for breaking the
electricity into packets of energy
suitable for shipment to various locations.
The buses feed the sparky stuff to
switching towers, tall steel frameworks
resembling electrified scarecrows,
which send power out on overhead wires
into Santa Monica neighborhoods and
into your home.
There are giant circuit breakers
too, basically giant on/off switches
for times when hard-hatted and suspendered
Edison workers need to take a section
of the power processing facility off
line for maintenance.
The Lens gets sweaty with worry just
putting his hand down the drain to
clear the garbage disposal. Considering
a person can be killed with just a
fraction of the voltage coursing through
the substation, you can be sure the
Edison guy who cracks open a panel
on one of the transformers has nerves
of steel, and deep and abiding trust
in the other Edison guy who says,
"Yeah. It's off. Definitely."
On these hot, late summer days when
our governor exhorts us to "flex
yoah powah" we should stop and
think of this amazing stuff, electricity,
and how it gets to us. And perhaps
when passing the corner of Lincoln
and Colorado, tip our hat to our friendly
neighborhood Southern California Edison
electricity distribution substation,
which makes our lives so civilized.