California Utilities Plan for Wildfire Reduction Efforts

By Katie Kuehner-Hebert | Feb 15, 2021
A wildfire burns through hills at night

California’s utilities are enhancing their wildfire mitigation plans in the wake of 2020’s rash of deadly wildfires.

The state’s three major utilities—Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), San Francisco; Southern California Edison (SCE), Rosemead, Calif.; and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E)—along with several smaller utilities, filed their proposed 2021 plans with the California Public Utilities Commission, San Francisco. Each promised to leverage technology and enhance operations in an effort to reduce wildfires caused by their infrastructure.

To reduce the potential for wildfires caused by the utility’s infrastructure, PG&E plans to continue to inspect and repair its equipment, conduct enhanced vegetation management and invest in grid technology and system hardening. These enhanced measures would be part of the utility’s new “wildfire risk model” that leverages machine learning for predicting fire ignitions and improving fire spread simulations for determining the potential impacts of a wildfire.

PG&E’s plan also calls for improving situational awareness by installing weather stations and high-definition cameras throughout the utility’s service area, investing in its Wildfire Safety Operations Center that monitors areas with a high threat of fire in real time and investing in meteorology to monitor weather conditions.

The utility would also work to reduce “public safety power shutoffs” (PSPS), in part by installing more than 260 devices that limit the size of outages, installing and deploying microgrids that use generators to keep the electricity on and deploying more crews for inspection and restoration efforts.

In SCE’s proposed 2021 plan, it wants to make “significant progress” in the following key areas:

  • Refining the utility’s high fire risk inspections strategy to include inspections in targeted areas based on emergent conditions, including fire weather conditions such as dry fuels.
  • Expanding its system-hardening activities to include long-span remediation by installing line spacers on long powerlines that are prone to conductor-to-conductor contact during windy conditions.
  • Establishing central data platforms for next-generation data analytics and governance.
  • Improving fire agencies’ ability to detect and respond to emerging fires using satellite imagery and providing aerial fire suppression resources such as helitankers to fire agencies to help protect communities in SCE’s service area.

SDG&E’s 2021 plan calls for continuing to advance many of the initiatives that began in 2020, such as PSPS mitigation efforts and expanded outreach to vulnerable communities. The plan includes making additional enhancements to data collection and analysis. These improvements would allow for more granular risk assessments and help prioritize infrastructure hardening projects and resource allocation in the future, according to the utility.

About The Author

KUEHNER-HEBERT is a freelance writer based in Running Springs, Calif. She has more than three decades of journalism experience. Reach her at [email protected]om.  

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