Calif. PUC takes additional actions tied to power shutoffs

In the wake of another recent round of Public Safety Power Shutoffs by California investor-owned utilities aimed at mitigating the threat of wildfires, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Oct. 28 said that is taking additional actions including an immediate re-examination of how utilities are using PSPS and directing utilities to expand wildfire mitigation plans.

The CPUC said that it would take a number of steps to ensure that the state’s experience this year with PSPS is not repeated including:

  • Launching a formal investigation: The CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division will ask CPUC Commissioners in the next 30 days to open an investigation of the 2019 PSPS events, utility compliance with CPUC regulations and requirements, any resulting violations, and potential actions to ensure utilities are held accountable;
  • Immediate Re-Examination of How Utilities Use PSPS: To prevent widespread PSPS events by the next fire season, CPUC President Marybel Batjer is issuing a new ruling to reexamine the current PSPS protocol and the use of PSPS by investor-owned utilities. This includes an examination of actions that utilities can take in the next six months to minimize impacts of future PSPS events by increasing grid redundancy, segmentation, and equipment hardening;
  • Expanding Wildfire Mitigation Plans for Immediate Impact: Batjer will direct the utilities to expand their upcoming 2020 wildfire mitigation plans to focus on increasing the safe performance of utilities, reduce the need for PSPS events, create more resilient communities, and provide results before the next wildfire season.

In addition, the PUC said that it will pull together a panel of experts to use data modeling and other advanced technologies to identify specific projects that can be implemented in coming months to minimize the use and scope of PSPS events next fire season. This team of experts will also analyze the effectiveness of utility mitigation plans and evaluate past PSPS events.

The PUC also said that it will work to ensure that customers are not charged for services they do not receive during PSPS events.

The CPUC on Oct. 18 held an emergency meeting to hear from top PG&E executives about what lessons have been learned from a PG&E PSPS earlier this month and what steps will be taken to ensure mistakes and operational gaps are not repeated.

PG&E on Saturday, Oct. 26, reported that it had begun de-energization of its electrical lines as part of a PSPS and said the shutoff is expected to impact approximately 940,000 customers in 38 counties. At the time, this was the third PSPS for the utility in October.

PG&E initiates new PSPS

On Tuesday, Oct. 29, PG&E initiated a new PSPS. PG&E has turned off power “due to gusty winds and dry conditions combined with a heightened fire risk. Once the weather subsides and it is safe to do so, PG&E crews will begin inspecting power lines, repairing damaged equipment and restoring customers,” the utility said on its PSPS webpage.

“Outages (weather event plus restoration time) could last longer than 48 hours. For planning purposes, PG&E suggests customers prepare for outages that could last several days,” the utility said.

“PG&E is watching the forecast for a widespread dry, offshore wind event beginning Tuesday through midday Wednesday, and will begin shutting off power to approximately 596,000 customers to mitigate wildfire risk in Northern and Southern Sierra, North Bay, Bay Area, Santa Cruz mountains, North Coast and Kern County,” SFGate reported on its website in reference to the new PSPS.

SDG&E, Southern California Edison

The state’s two other major IOUs – San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison – have also utilized PSPS this month, albeit on a much smaller scale in terms of the number of affected customers when compared with PG&E.

On Oct. 25, SDG&E turned off power to approximately 16,000 customers, while Southern California Edison said that as of the morning of Oct. 25 power had been shutoff to 13,009 customers due to a PSPS.

On Oct. 29, SDG&E said that none of its customers were without power due to a PSPS, but that 32,941 customers could potentially face power shut offs due to a PSPS.

Southern California Edison said that as of the morning of Oct. 29, power was shutoff to 116 customers due to its PSPS and that another 206,000 customers were under PSPS consideration.

California grapples with several fires

Meanwhile, California continued to grapple with several wildfires on Oct. 29 including the Getty Fire in Southern California and the Kincade Fire in Northern California.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Oct. 28 that PG&E Pacific Gas & Electric “revealed that it failed to notify about 23,000 of its customers of precautionary power shutdowns earlier this month and also disclosed that its equipment malfunctioned near two fires that broke out in Contra Costa County on Sunday afternoon.”

California CCAs

On Oct. 28, Peninsula Clean Energy said that its Board of Directors voted to commit up to $10 million over three years to fund clean backup power for San Mateo County’s medically vulnerable residents and essential community services during PG&E power shutoffs.

Peninsula Clean Energy, a California community choice aggregator, said that nearly 60,000 Peninsula Clean Energy accounts have been affected by PG&E power shutoffs over the last several says including medically vulnerable residents who rely on electricity to power life saving devices such as ventilators.

Peninsula Clean Energy will develop programs to support the installation of battery backup systems powered by renewable energy on eligible homes and community facilities with greatest need. These clean power options are expected to increasingly replace backup diesel generators, it said.

Peninsula Clean Energy’s new emergency power backup programs will begin rolling out next year.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recently announced statewide funding for emergency power backup systems is expected to supplement this effort.

On Oct. 25, Newsom launched a local government PSPS resiliency program to mitigate the impact on Californians by supporting continuity of operations and efforts to protect public health, safety, and commerce in affected communities.

Peninsula Clean Energy said it is also collaborating with other Bay Area community choice energy agencies and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District on resiliency programs.

In related news, the California Community Choice Association on Oct. 29 said that as de-energization becomes the norm in California, CCAs “are uniquely positioned to rapidly advance local energy resilience initiatives such as microgrids to keep critical facilities on line, and locally sited distributed energy resources (DER) like solar and energy storage to help prevent future wildfires and grid outages.”

CCAs “are, in fact, already supporting local resilience projects and are actively advocating for policies that accelerate the development of mitigating resources,” it said.