PG&E Says Shutoffs Likely Avoided Arcing

Power lines.
Published On
Nov 8, 2019

Last month, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) conducted forced power shutoffs to avoid triggering wildfires during extreme weather conditions. They were met with a loud chorus of objections from customers and public officials alike.

However, a recent report by utility reveals over 115 instances of damage to either vegetation or infrastructure following the shutoffs, 56 of which the utility says likely would have caused arcing. 

In an Oct. 30 filing with the U.S. District Court for Northern California, PG&E identified widespread damage to its infrastructure that had occurred during the power shutoffs and which it says could have triggered wildfires.

Immediately following the Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) that occurred between October 9 and October 12, the utility conducted patrols on 25,000 line miles that were affected by the shutoffs in order to evaluate damage to the system. On October 14, the court requested a report on those patrols.

In responding to that request, PG&E reported that it had identified 74 instances of vegetation damage, such as tree limbs laying across a power line, all of which had occurred during the four-day shutoffs.

The utility determined that 44 of those likely would have caused arcing if the lines had been energized. Another 25 would not have likely caused arcing, and five more were inconclusive.

In addition to the vegetation damage, PG&E also identified 41 instances of damage to its infrastructure, such as a broken tie wire, that appeared to have been caused by extreme wind and/or other fire conditions present during the same time period. Of these, twelve would have caused arcing, and 25 would not have caused arcing if the lines had been energized. PG&E could not determine the likelihood of arcing on another three instances of damage.

PG&E was widely criticized for poor communications and poor coordination of the multi-day PSPS which affected up to two million customers in Northern California.

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

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