SDG&E Shrinks Fire Cutoff Plan

By Published On: June 25, 2010

San Diego Gas & Electric scaled back its controversial plan to shut down power in parts of its service territory during high wind periods to prevent fires. SDG&E began working on the new protocols after the California Public Utilities Commission rejected a more far-reaching plan to avert fire danger last September. Under the revised guidelines, SDG&E will cut power to some areas when winds exceed 56 miles per hour, or 85 mph in areas where the electrical infrastructure has been upgraded, including where wooden poles have been replaced with steel ones. Under the plan rejected last year by the CPUC, the minimum amount of wind required for a power shutoff would have been 35 mph. The revised procedures aim to reduce the risk of blazes during fire season and are partly in response to three fires that tore through San Diego County in October 2007. SDG&E power lines were found by investigators to have caused the three blazes, which caused seven deaths and burned hundreds of thousands of acres. Also under the new protocols, SDG&E workers are to monitor on the ground areas susceptible to high winds instead of relying on a varied set of criteria that included red-flag warnings and wind speed levels, said utility spokeswoman Stephanie Donovan. She added that 80 wind speed monitors are being put in place in high wind areas in time for fire season, which starts September 1. The utility has been gathering input on ways to reduce chances of equipment-caused wildfires via a series of mediation sessions with fire safety and stakeholder groups. The meetings, which have been going on for eight months, are being facilitated by a government mediator. They are scheduled to conclude June 28. Donovan said the meetings have been productive. However, her perspective was questioned by one of the stakeholders. “It has also been an ordeal,” said Michael Shames, executive director of the San Diego-based Utility Consumers’ Action Network. “Most of the stakeholders who had originally participated have dropped out of this very long and torturous mediation process which has been dominated by the telecommunications providers.” He added that consensus has been “elusive.” SDG&E’s Donovan, however, said that the meetings have resulted in several ideas for “short-term and long-term fixes,” which are being evaluated and possibly may be implemented in the coming months, although probably not before the beginning of fire season.

Share this story

Not a member yet?

Subscribe Now