Fires and wind regularly wreak havoc on the distribution system in the Southland, now regulators are nudging up the cost of prevention measures in order to avoid more costly damage in the long term. In an effort to prevent future loss, the California Public Utilities Commission Jan. 12 adopted sweeping regulations designed to prevent electric power and communications lines from causing wildfires--particularly in Southern California. It\u2019s an \u201cadditional measure of safety for power lines to lessen the possibility that they may become a trigger for wildfires in the future,\u201d noted commission president Mike Peevey. The rules call for better management and tree trimming around the lines in high-risk fire areas to prevent lines that come down or arc during high winds from igniting trees and brush. They also call for better efforts to prevent poles from being overloaded with weighty lines and equipment that make them more vulnerable to breaking during high winds. The commission approved the requirements on a unanimous vote. The move is in response to \u201cdevastating\u201d wildfires in Southern California in 2007 during high Santa Ana winds, according to commissioner Tim Simon. The fires--many reportedly started by power lines--killed 17 people and burned down thousands of homes and buildings as they consumed a 780-square-mile area. No dollar value for the damage is highlighted in the decision. The rules also come amid growing concern about the safety of utility operations in California, from power lines to natural gas pipelines. In addition to fire damage, safety concerns stem from the Pacific Gas & Electric gas pipeline that exploded in San Bruno in 2010. In light of energy-related dangers--and the prospect that improving public protection is likely to require more money--the CPUC Jan. 11 held a first meeting aimed at figuring out how to better incorporate compliance with safety standards into its utility ratemaking process (see sidebar). The latest fire standards for power lines build upon \u201cquick fix\u201d preventative measures the CPUC adopted in 2009. Those included increasing the required clearance between trees and lines. With the more comprehensive rules in place, regulators are now turning their attention to longer-term requirements that aim to integrate fire-resistant materials and design into the grid in the most fire-prone areas. These might include using sensors and automated controls to reduce fire hazards when the wind blows, said Simon. The new rules adopted this week include a number of preventative measures. They require communications utilities in Southern California to conduct annual aerial inspections of their lines that are near power lines or share poles with electric lines in fire-prone regions. In Northern California the flyover inspections must be done every two years. More detailed inspections are required every five years in Southern California and every ten years in Northern California. The rules also: -Require utilities in Southern California to submit fire prevention plans targeting extreme weather events, such as high Santa Ana winds; -Mandate Northern California utilities assess the potential for fires and if they discover credible threats develop prevention plans; and -Direct utilities to manage vegetation on state and local public lands. The rules also allow electric utilities to turn off power in cases where private land owners in fire zones deny them access to trim vegetation around utility lines that run along easements on their property after fair notice. Commissioner Catherine Sandoval characterized shutoffs as \u201ca last resort\u201d to assure that tree trimming is adequate around lines.