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Public Safety Is Focus Of Power Shutoffs

Noting that “we can only look forward from here” Pacific Gas and Electric Government Relations Representative Dylan George outlined the utility’s PSPS, Public Safety Power Shutoff, initiative on Monday night.

Invited to attend the Escalon City Council meeting, George provided an overview of the fairly new program at the June 17 session, which will allow for planned power outages in wildfire-prone areas when conditions warrant.

Already this year there has been one in a part of the North Bay area including Napa, Lake and Yolo counties along with some outages in Butte and Yuba counties, said George.

Massive wildfires around the state the past few fire seasons are seen as the impetus for the initiative, which will first shut down distribution lines in the impacted areas and, if necessary, also expand that to include transmission lines.

“We’re out trying to prepare everybody,” George explained. “Be prepared in the event you lose power.”

Audience members had questions relating to such scenarios as whether the utility would pay for spoiled meat if freezers are powered off for several hours to the impact on ratepayers for the additional monitoring and surveillance activities as well as system upgrades designed to protect against fire and wind conditions.

George explained that PG&E now has a 24/7 Wildfire Safety Operations Center up and running to keep an eye on fire ‘danger zones’ around the state.

He said they are doing “real time monitoring” as well as “accelerated safety inspections” for power lines, with some 7,100 miles of overhead lines in danger zones in Northern and Central California.

Several factors would come into play before a Public Safety Power Shutoff would be enacted, including a Red Flag warning, low humidity levels (below 20 percent), forecasted sustained winds, the condition of dry fuels and more.

“A lot of these conditions will be more prominent as we get to the end of the fire season,” George explained.

For Escalon, he said while it’s unlikely a lengthy outage would occur, there’s no guarantee it won’t happen, either. Tier II and Tier III areas of the state are those anticipated to be impacted the most and Escalon, along with the bulk of the Central Valley, is a Tier I location. Still, if power sources for Escalon are among any Tier II or Tier III locations, the power could be shut off here as well.

“We want to give 48 hours’ notice,” George said of planning for outages, “but we’re not always able to.”

That, he said, because weather conditions can change rapidly and power may need to be shut off sooner rather than later to avoid potential problems.

He said people can go on their PG&E account online and make sure all their contact information is updated, so they can be contacted via email, Facebook, text and more to get ‘real time’ power information.

Letters detailing the Public Safety Power Shutoff program have gone out to all PG&E customers to help spread the word, added George.

“Probably the best thing is just to be prepared,” said Mayor Robert Swift.

George said the decision to shut off power is not one the utility will take lightly, but one it will make if it is the safest course of action.

More information about the program can be found at safety.