PG&E closes in on completing restoration tied to shutoffs

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) on Oct. 31 reported that it had restored approximately 97% of customers who had their power turned off as part of Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events the utility initiated on Oct. 26 and Oct. 29 in an effort to mitigate the threat of wildfires.

On Tuesday, Oct. 29, PG&E initiated a new PSPS, marking the fourth time the utility had implemented a PSPS in October. PG&E noted that for the Oct. 29 PSPS, the number of impacted counties was decreased from original estimates, as weather conditions changed and as PG&E was able to sectionalize parts of its grid to allow for greater precision in the shutoffs.

On Oct. 31, PG&E said its crews began conducting safety patrols and inspections where power had been turned off for safety. In some areas where patrols have been completed, the utility has started to re-energize the power lines. Inspections will take place during daylight hours. 

More than 6,300 PG&E personnel and contractors and more than 40 helicopters are deployed and supporting the restoration process, the utility reported on Oct. 30. PG&E has also secured mutual assistance of approximately 830 electric workers from other utilities from across the U.S. to help with inspections and repairs.

For the Oct. 26 PSPS event, PG&E has verified at least 83 instances of weather damage or hazards involving PG&E assets, the utility reported on Oct. 30. It is still assessing damage from the Oct. 29 event and expects the overall number to continue to rise. These types of damages could lead to potential wildfire ignitions if power lines are not de-energized, the utility said.

Southern California Edison, SDG&E

Investor-owned utility Southern California Edison reported that power had been shutoff to 72,924 of its customers as of the morning of Oct. 31 due to a PSPS it implemented.

It said an additional 223,563 customers were under PSPS consideration.

San Diego Gas & Electric reported on Oct. 31 that improved weather conditions in portions of its service territory were allowing its crews to patrol and inspect power lines impacted by Public Safety Power Shutoffs.

SDG&E reported a total of 20,336 customers were affected by its PSPS.


Meanwhile, California continues to grapple with several wildfires.

A CBS affiliate station in Los Angeles reported that Southern California Edison “says a massive wildfire in Simi Valley that forced thousands to evacuate broke out near its equipment.”

The station, CBSLA, said that utility spokesman Robert Villegas said the utility had filed a required report with state regulators acknowledging flames were sparked within its service territory near a sub-transmission line, which was energized at the time. “The cause of Wednesday’s wind-driven Easy Fire in Simi Valley has not been determined,” the station noted.

The Getty fire, which broke out earlier this week “is now 39 percent contained, but fire officials said Santa Ana winds up to 50 mph could hamper their efforts to control the blaze,” Fox News reported.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power on Oct. 29 reported that it has been working closely with Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) investigators to inspect electrical equipment that was believed to have been struck by a dried tree branch near the location where the Getty Fire is suspected to have started.

“Based on the investigation, LAFD has stated that the fire was likely caused by a tree branch that broke off during the high wind conditions and landed on nearby power lines, which resulted in arcing and sparking that ignited nearby brush. Investigators are working to determine the ownership of the land occupied by the tree,” LADWP said.

LADWP said that during the preliminary investigation, a dried Eucalyptus branch was found by investigators hanging from telecommunications lines located below LADWP power lines. The branch is believed to have blown into LADWP wires from a tree located approximately 30 feet from the utility lines. This distance is outside of the vegetation clearance and setback distance required by state regulations, LADWP noted.

Based upon inspection of the location, there was no failure of electrical equipment involved, LADWP said. All wires and equipment, including the pole, remain fully intact. Additionally, LADWP completed vegetation management inspection and trimming in this area of the city on July 10, 2019, having trimmed 248 trees in the vicinity to protect the public’s safety and to prevent power outages.

“Our water and power crew members remain hard at work supporting ongoing fire operations with personnel in the area to ensure adequate water supply to aid in firefighting and coordination of power restoration in areas damaged by the fire. During any fire, our power system staff coordinates closely with firefighters to cut power flow as needed to ensure fire personnel safety and the safety of our customers and they will continue to do,” LADWP said.

LADWP’s electric distribution system has 6,763 miles of overhead distribution lines and 3,732 miles of underground cables. These lines deliver power to customers from 177 electrical substations located across the city. 

As part of maintaining this infrastructure, LADWP has an aggressive vegetation management program. Each year, its crews inspect overhead power lines and ensure that tree branches and other vegetation are clear of electrical equipment to protect against fire and power outages.

“Properly maintaining our power infrastructure is what allows LADWP to continue providing safe and reliable power to our customers, but as with any other electrical distribution system, power lines can be impacted by anything that makes contact with them – whether it is a tree branch, a palm frond, an animal, or a Mylar balloon,” LADWP pointed out.

Auto accidents also frequently impact equipment and have resulted in fires in the past, regardless of wind conditions, it said. In most instances, these events go unnoticed beyond the immediate area, resulting in a localized power outage.

In Northern California, the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection reported on Oct. 31 that the Kincade Fire was 60 percent contained.

“A week after it started, the Kincade Fire that roared through Sonoma County wine country was under control Thursday as more evacuations were lifted,” the Los Angeles Times reported on Oct. 31.

NCPA geothermal plants

The Northern California Power Agency said that based on limited, preliminary inspections completed Oct. 30, there does not appear to be any fire damage to NCPA’s geothermal power plants as a result of the Kincade Fire.

NCPA tweeted that there were some signs of minimal wind damage due to the extreme wind conditions experienced in the area and that a full inspection and further assessment of damage were pending.

NCPA said it would continue to closely monitor the situation and coordinate with CAL FIRE, local officials, and PG&E on any changes that could affect the status of plant operations.

Congressman calls for governor to support turning PG&E into customer-owned utility

On Oct. 29, U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., (CA-17) called for California Gov. Gavin Newsom to support turning PG&E into a customer owned utility.  

“We need to have more municipal public utilities providing energy. We need state and federal investment in smart microgrids with distributed power generation. We also need more federal resources in the state to deal with wildfires. California needs to be bold and take over PG&E,” Khanna said in a statement.

Khanna discussed his support for turning PG&E into a customer-owned utility in a recent interview with CNBC.

CPUC takes additional actions

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

The PUC 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.