Southern California Edison (SCE) has paid California Air Resources Board (CARB) penalties of US$350,000 after admitting it failed for three years to accurately report on its storage and use of sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).
SF6 is a greenhouse gas (GHG) that can warm the atmosphere about 23,000 times more than the most common GHG, carbon dioxide (CO2). SF6 is an insulator and circuit breaker used in electrical switchgear equipment. When it escapes, it can linger in the atmosphere for more than 3000 years.
“SF6 is the most damaging GHG on earth – more than 20,000 times more potent than CO2, so it must be handled and stored with extreme care,” said CARB Executive Officer Richard W. Corey. “SCE’s failures to accurately and completely report its handling of this material is the kind of violation that can make tracking the chemical’s impact much more difficult and can set back California’s overall efforts to curb the worst impacts of climate change.”
The data issues arose from poor documentation of many pieces of small equipment, insufficient quality assurance and control processes, inadequate staff training, and a misunderstanding of regulatory terms. Reporting violations occurred in several years consisting of multiple reports.
SCE agreed to pay a total of US$350,000 in civil penalties for three reporting years. SCE has fully cooperated with CARB in this matter. As a preventative effort, SCE has implemented new procedures to validate reporting requirements and to identify and address issues in advance of submitting annual reports.
California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) required reduction of GHGs back to 1990 levels by 2020. The state achieved that target in 2016. In 2010, CARB approved the Regulation for Reducing Sulfur Hexafluoride Emissions from Gas Insulated Switchgear, which sets a limit on the amount of SF6 emitted by any company, and the state has required annual reporting on SF6 since 2012.
SF6 is considered a super pollutant because of its extremely high global warming potential. Super pollutants play a growing role in California’s plans to reach the subsequent AB 32 target of GHG emissions reductions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.
Scientists estimate that super pollutants such as SF6, methane, hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, and black carbon are responsible for up to 40% of earth’s global warming. As a result, California has approved, or is developing, regulations to reduce emissions of all these chemicals and compounds. The 2022 update to the Climate Scoping Plan includes further potential measures to curb these emissions.