PG&E expands instant power shut-offs for California fire season

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

The Northern California utility said its safety settings shut off power to a circuit “within a tenth of a second” after a failure, such as a power failure. B. when a branch falls on a line.

Such bugs related to PG&E equipment have recently sparked a string of massive wildfires, including last year’s Dixie fire and 2018’s Campfire, which led to involuntary manslaughter charges, millions of dollars in fines and a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, in order protect the company from potentially tens of billions of dollars in liabilities.

In the aftermath of the Dixie fire, PG&E rolled out its power line shutdown program last year. With fewer than 200 circuits covered, PG&E found an 80 percent reduction in inflammation 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 will cover 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 failures 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 will take steps like proactively trimming and removing vegetation around equipment at some locations.

The utility has also rolled out a new tool for customers to check if their address could be affected by the lockdowns.

The instantaneous shutdowns are distinct from public safety power outages initiated during high winds and other hazardous fire conditions.

During these outages, utility companies like PG&E and Southern California Edison often send notifications to customers about an impending shutdown.

The extension of the immediate shutdown comes as PG&E faces criticism over the Dixie fire, which started when a 65-foot Douglas fir fell on PG&E equipment, according to a report by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection released last week became. The fire was not discovered until 10 hours later by a PG&E employee.

The fire, the second largest in state history, burned nearly 1 million acres in Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Tehama and Shasta counties last summer, destroying hundreds of homes and razing much of the city of Greenville.

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

“Had PG&E gotten to the site sooner, they could have spotted the error… and opened the third fuse before it had time to ignite any ready fuel,” Cal Fire wrote in its report.

In response, PG&E said that “there was no indication of an emergency until our troublemaker arrived at the scene shortly after the fire broke out.” PG&E expands instant power shut-offs for California fire season

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