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Wildfire Mitigation Plan Enhances Community Safety

As part of its ongoing efforts to further reduce wildfire risks and keep customers and the communities it serves safe, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) recently submitted its 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Plan to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The plan expands and enhances the company’s comprehensive Community Wildfire Safety Program designed to address the growing threat of extreme weather and wildfires across its service area.

The 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Plan will continue expanded key safety work 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 how severe weather can impact PG&E’s system.

“Our state is faced with an extended and more dangerous wildfire season that demands additional urgent action and coordination across many stakeholder groups to reduce the risk of wildfire,” said Michael Lewis, Senior Vice President, Electric Operations. “The wildfire safety actions and programs described in our 2020 plan detail the company’s unwavering efforts to improve public safety and further reduce wildfire risk.”

PG&E’s 2020 plan includes changes to make Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events smaller in scope and shorter in duration and to lessen the overall impacts of shutoffs while working to keep customers and communities safe during times of severe weather and high wildfire risk.

Efforts this year to reduce the impact of PSPS events on customers include: installing 592 automated sectionalizing devices on distribution lines with the aim of reducing the number of communities without power during a PSPS event; adding 23 transmission switches capable of redirecting power and keeping substations and transmission lines energized in some areas during a PSPS event; working with local communities to operationalize additional microgrids that will allow customers and essential community services to stay energized during a PSPS event.

Also planned are: expanding PG&E’s ability to provide backup power to some critical service providers, such as major transportation thoroughfares, water systems, medical centers and fire departments; enhancing meteorology technology for more precise PSPS events; nearly doubling PG&E’s helicopter fleet from 35 to 65 to patrol lines after a weather event has passed; using two fixed-wing aircrafts with infrared cameras capable of inspecting transmission lines at night; deploying additional field crews to patrol, inspect and repair power lines after a weather event has passed.

The utility also plans on working closely with local, state and tribal officials to better coordinate for PSPS events; bolstering PG&E’s website and call center resources and continuing to make improvements to information and resources available; improving customer notifications about when power will be shut off for safety and when customers can expect it to be restored; working with local communities to improve the locations, availability and resources provided at Community Resource Centers; and hosting a series of information open houses and webinars to provide information to customers and communities about systematic improvements and PSPS preparedness.

“We know how much our customers rely on electric service. Proactively turning off power disrupts lives and presents its own safety risks, which need to be carefully considered and addressed,” said Debbie Powell, Vice President, Asset & Risk Management, Community Wildfire Safety Program. “Turning off power for safety is not how we strive to serve our customers, and we are committed to reducing the impacts without compromising safety.”

California faces an increasing threat from catastrophic wildfires, severe weather and higher temperatures, and recent state and federal climate assessments warn the threat is only growing. In 2012, just 15 percent of PG&E’s service area was designated by the CPUC as having an elevated wildfire risk. Today, it’s more than 50 percent.

Multiple factors contribute to wildfire risk and an extended fire season across PG&E’s service area. Prolonged periods of high temperatures, extreme dryness, tinder-dry grass and record-high winds combined with vast tree mortality following a historic five-year drought are increasing the number of wildfires and making them more dangerous.

PG&E’s 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Plan describes forecasted work and investments that will be executed this year to help further reduce the potential for wildfire ignitions associated with its electrical equipment in high fire-threat areas.

The plan addresses an array of wildfire risk factors through new and ongoing measures. Among the safety steps and actions to be taken this year include: pruning or removing more than 1 million trees to keep them away from power lines; installing more than 240 miles of stronger and more resilient poles and covered power lines, along with targeted undergrounding; adding approximately 400 new weather stations this year, which will keep PG&E on track to add a total of 1,300 new weather stations by 2021, a density of one station roughly every 20 circuit-miles in the high fire-risk areas; installing nearly 200 new, high-definition cameras in high fire-threat areas, which will keep PG&E on track to add a total of 600 by 2022, increasing coverage across high fire-risk areas to more than 90 percent of its service area; and coordinating prevention and response efforts by monitoring wildfire risks in real time from the Wildfire Safety Operations Center.

PG&E’s 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Plan is subject to public review and approval by the CPUC. PG&E strongly supports and encourages its customers and communities to provide feedback and participate in the public process.