PG&E’s 2019 wildfire safety plan adds expanded shutoff programme


As part of its ongoing commitment to reducing wildfire risk, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has submitted its 2019 Wildfire Safety Plan to the California Public Utilities Commission.

The safety plan marks an expansion of enhanced and additional safety precautions PG&E began implementing in 2017 and 2018 to address the growing threat of extreme weather and wildfires across its service area.

PG&E’s plan includes expanding and enhancing its Community Wildfire Safety Programme to further reduce wildfire risks and help keep customers safe.

Expanded efforts include enhancing vegetation management around power lines, conducting heightened safety inspections of electric infrastructure in high fire-threat areas, and hardening of the electric system.

Also included in the 2019 plan are additional and improved safety precautions including the expansion of PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) programme to include all electric lines that pass through high fire-threat areas – both transmission and distribution.

While customers in high fire-threat areas are more likely to be affected, any of PG&E’s more than 5 million electric customers could have their power shut off for safety only as a last resort when forecasted fire danger conditions warrant.

“We know how much our customers rely on electric services. Proactively turning off power is a highly complex issue with significant public safety risks on both sides – all of which need to be carefully considered and addressed,” said Michael Lewis, Electric Operations senior vice president. “We understand and appreciate that turning off the power affects first responders and the operation of critical facilities, communications systems and much more. We will only turn off power for public safety and only as a last resort to keep our customers and communities safe.”

To be clear, the decision to initiate a PSPS is informed by local forecasts, so PG&E is not indicating that it would ever turn off power to all customers at once.

Instead, due to the complexity of the electric grid, and the web-like connection between transmission lines, distribution lines and substations, there is a possibility that some customers outside a high-risk fire threat area, could have their power turned off based on the need to turn off a specific high-voltage circuit. The expanded programme includes timely notification to customers of potential PSPS events.

The programme will now include 25,200 distribution circuit miles, up from 7,100 last year, and about 5,500 circuit miles of transmission lines including 500 kV, up from 373 circuit miles of transmission lines at 70 kV and below, across elevated and extreme-fire risk areas, designated by the CPUC High Fire Threat District map adopted in January 2018.

PG&E’s plan describes forecasted work and investments in 2019 to help further reduce the potential for wildfire ignitions associated with its electrical equipment in high fire-threat areas. It also reflects the unique size and geography of PG&E’s 70,000-square-mile service area of which more than half is located in extreme or elevated fire-threat areas.

“Our state is faced with an extended and more dangerous wildfire season that demands urgent action and coordination. While California’s energy companies have a critical responsibility and role to play in reducing wildfire risk, we must all work together to keep our communities safe,” said Sumeet Singh, vice president of the Community Wildfire Safety Programme. “The wildfire safety actions and programmes described in our 2019 plan address the company’s unique and diverse service area and provide our regulators, customers and communities with transparency of our unwavering efforts to help further reduce the risk of wildfire and improve public safety.”

Click here for more detail on the Wildfire Safety Programme.