SOME LIKE IT HOT: SDG&E Drops High Wind Power Cutoff Plan

By Published On: October 31, 2008

Although a chill is in the air, fire concerns are ongoing, particularly in San Diego where wildfires found to be ignited by utility transmission lines in the fall of 2007 burned 200,000 acres, causing loss of life and property (Circuit, Sept. 5, 2008). How best to cope with fire threats in this region, and how that decision is to be made is a hot topic. San Diego Gas & Electric dropped its plan October 30 to shut off the power of 45,000 customers during high, dry winds to avert fire dangers after getting a thumbs’ down from regulators. “While we recognize that power outages are an inconvenience, we will use this additional time to continue to work with our customers in getting prepared to minimize any adverse impact on them,” Debbie Reed, SDG&E president, stated Thursday. The California Public Utilities Commission rejected the utility’s request for an expedited approval of its proposed changes to the commission’s emergency rules to minimize fire danger. “The emergency plan is controversial and raises important policy questions,” CPUC Energy Division Acting Director Ken Lewis stated in an October 24 letter to the utility. Therefore, changes to emergency preparedness regulations need to be aired in a formal evidentiary hearing, and not dealt with via an informal advice letter, he said. “With the rejection of the advice letter, it became too risky of a proposition for the utility,” said Michael Shames, Utility Consumers’ Action Network executive director. “It appears that SDG&E won’t cut power if it means a cut in its profits.” SDG&E proposed changes to the commission’s Rule 14. It also recently notified customers of operational changes it was undertaking to reduce fire threats, including switching off power lines during high Santa Ana winds. Subsequently, the utility was accused of failing to consult with those who would be affected by the shutoffs. Nearly two dozen protest letters were sent to the commission and a lawsuit was filed. According to Shames, the rule change sought by the utility was devoid of specifics as to how and when large scale disconnections would occur but “does bestow upon SDG&E full legal protection against the consequences of such a scheme.” Following the devastating wildfires, the San Diego city attorney sued San Diego Gas & Electric. The city claimed this summer that the utility was negligent in the inspection and maintenance of its high voltage lines. The CPUC is evaluating the utility role in last October’s fires.

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