California Utilities Planning Ahead for Wildfires

Sadly, combating wildfires has become as much a part of the fight against global warming as tapping into renewable power.

Utilities in California have become painfully familiar with this new reality.

On Feb. 7, the state’s utilities submitted their two-year plans to mitigate the impact of wildfires to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The CPUC will hold workshops, take public input, review plans and ultimately approve or deny them by June of 2020.

The state’s three largest utilities submitted their plans. Although each serves different parts of the state with unique geographies, the risk of wildfires is a factor for all three.

PG&E has perhaps been hit hardest by wildfires in recent years. With billions of dollars of liability claims from several different fires, the company recently filed for bankruptcy and has been the topic of takeover discussions by state and local government officials.

The utility’s wildfire mitigation plan contains several approaches, including new grid technology, hardening of the electric system, accelerated inspections of electric infrastructure, enhanced vegetation management around power lines and real-time monitoring and situational awareness tools to better understand the impact of weather on its systems.

San Diego Gas and Electric has had its share of liability claims from wildfires. The utility’s plan includes measures that fall into three categories. Operations and engineering include measures to keep the electrical system safe. Situational awareness focuses on monitoring and understanding weather and the fire environment. Lastly, consumer outreach and education include communication and collaboration with customers.

The mitigation plan submitted by Southern California Edison includes infrastructure hardening, vegetation management, detailed inspections and remediations and situational awareness.

All three companies attempt to address the use of public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) and rely on them less as a wildfire mitigation measure. PG&E, in particular, faced strong public back lash to its PSPS in 2019.

In addition to the three large utilities, several small and multi-jurisdictional utilities and independent transmission owners also submitted mitigation plans to the CPUC.

About the Author

Rick Laezman

Freelance Writer

Rick Laezman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has been covering renewable power for more than 10 years. He may be reached at richardlaezman@msn.com.

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