Officials with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) said that its Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings (EPSS) now protect approximately 3 million people, or more than 1 million customers, who live in high fire-risk areas within the company’s service area.
The safety settings turn off power within one-tenth of a second when a fault, such as a tree limb coming into contact with a powerline, is detected. Last year, on 170 circuits with safety settings enabled, there was an 80 percent reduction in CPUC-reportable ignitions in High Fire Threat Districts that could result in a wildfire, compared to the prior three-year average.
Based on EPSS’s success in 2021 as a proven wildfire prevention technology, PG&E has expanded the program to more than 1,000 circuits encompassing more than 25,000 distribution line miles in high fire-risk areas this year as well as approximately 18,000 line miles in adjacent portions of the system.
Through June 1, the positive results in 2022 mirror those in 2021, as there has been an 82 percent reduction in CPUC-reportable ignitions that could result in a wildfire compared to the three-year average (2018-2020).
PG&E expects that the safety settings will remain enabled on 700 to 800 of those circuits between now and the end of the wildfire season. For customers on the other approximately 200 circuits, the technology will be enabled on days when there is a Red Flag Warning and disabled when weather conditions, such as heavy coastal fog, are favorable.
Although these enhanced safety settings help keep customers safe and prevent wildfires, they can also result in outages. Recognizing how difficult it is to be without power, PG&E is taking steps to reduce the burden of outages on customers and communities.
Some of the steps PG&E is taking to reduce outages include conducting reliability and operational improvements to minimize customer impacts from outages on safety setting-enabled lines, and pruning and removing vegetation in targeted locations to improve reliability.
PG&E offers a new tool on its website, where customers can input their address and see if the safety settings are currently enabled on the circuit serving their home or business. It’s available at www.pge.com/outages.
When an outage occurs on an EPSS-enabled circuit, PG&E crews patrol the lines to check for damage or hazards. Patrols are done by helicopter, truck or on foot during daylight hours. In some instances, nighttime patrols are possible. So far this year, circuits enabled with EPSS have experienced 205 outages, with the average restoration time being about 3.5 hours, a nearly 50 percent improvement in outage duration compared to last year.
The enhanced safety settings are just one component of PG&E’s comprehensive Community Wildfire Safety Program, which includes putting 10,000 miles of powerlines underground, creating microgrids to keep key community facilities energized during outages and an ever-growing number of situational awareness tools such as weather stations and high-definition cameras. Information can be found at www.pge.com/wildfiresafety.