PG&E expands instant power outages for California fire season

As California prepares to enter the heart of wildfire season amid drought and historically dry conditions, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said Friday it has expanded its instantaneous power line shutdowns to cover more high-risk areas.

The Northern California utility said its safety settings shut off power to a circuit “within a tenth of a second” of a fault, such as a tree branch falling on a line.

Such faults in PG&E equipment have sparked a string of recent massive wildfires, including last year’s Dixie Fire and the 2018 Camp Fire, which led to homicide charges. involuntarily guilty, millions of dollars in fines and a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing meant to shield the company from tens of billions of dollars in potential debt.

After the Dixie fire, PG&E rolled out its power line shutdown program last year. With less than 200 circuits covered, PG&E noted an 80% reduction in ignitions in high wildfire risk areas reported to the California Public Utilities Commission, compared to the previous three-year average.

After this year’s expansion, PG&E said, the program covers 1,000 circuits, 25,000 miles of distribution lines in high-risk areas and about 3 million people.

So far this year, there have been 205 outages on circuits covered by the program, with an average recovery time of 3.5 hours, the company said.

To reduce outages, PG&E said it would take measures such as proactive pruning and clearing of vegetation around equipment in certain locations.

The utility has also launched a new tool allowing customers to check whether their address may be affected by the cuts.

Flash blackouts differ from public safety blackouts, which are instituted during high winds and other dangerous fire conditions.

During these outages, utilities such as PG&E and Southern California Edison often send outage notifications to customers.

The expansion of snap closures comes as PG&E faces criticism over the Dixie Fire, which was started when a 65-foot Douglas fir fell on PG&E equipment, according to a Forest Department report. and California Fire Protection made public last week. The fire was not discovered by a PG&E employee until 10 hours later.

The fire, the second largest in state history, scorched nearly a million acres in Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Tehama and Shasta counties last summer, destroyed hundreds of homes and razed much of the town of Greenville.

Cal Fire investigators said PG&E’s response “was a direct and negligent factor in igniting the fire.”

“If PG&E had arrived on the scene sooner, they could have detected the fault…and opened the third fuse before it had time to ignite any receptive fuel,” Cal Fire wrote in its report.

In response, PG&E said that “there was no indication of an emergency until our spoilsport arrived on the scene shortly after the fire started”.

Los Angeles Times

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