Utility Safety Plans Riddled with Deficiencies, Wildfire Safety Division Says

7 May 2020

California Public Utilities Commission staff detailed numerous gaps in how the three investor-owned utilities plan to address wildfires this year in draft findings released May 7.

The proposed resolution by the Commission’s Wildfire Safety Division found the plans of the major electrical utilities “provide no discussion of how the chosen portfolio of initiatives will allow the utility to achieve its goals for reducing [public safety power shutoffs] impacts.”

The division said overall Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric demonstrated “progress in reducing wildfire risk for communities” but noted numerous deficiencies in their 2020 wildfire mitigation plans. These ranged from how they are working to reduce the extent and duration of power shutoffs, to whether tree-cutting to curb fire risks is effective. CalFire, the independent Wildfire Safety Advisory Board, and members of the public provided input on the newly released analysis.

The division also stated the planned work did not seem to differ substantially from standard risk reduction, posing the question of whether the utility fire mitigation plans are “redundant and unnecessary.”

The assessment called into question whether utilities are effectively using ratepayer resources to mitigate wildfire dangers. Another foggy area is how the utilities track the cost of the mitigation work and determine which pilot projects are successful and which ineffective.

Electrical corporations also failed to “provide sufficient detail regarding long-term wildfire mitigation plans and how the initiatives in their plans align with and support those long-term plans.”

This draft resolution recommends the plans be approved in spite of the numerous issues. It is scheduled to be voted on at the CPUC’s June 11 meeting.

Elizabeth McCarthy

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