PG&E completes restoration; PUC orders corrective actions

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) said that every customer impacted by the Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) implemented last week had their power restored as of the afternoon of Saturday afternoon, Oct. 12.

The last group of customers in Amador and Calaveras counties were restored at approximately at 6 p.m., the investor-owned utility said.

Approximately 738,000 customers in 34 counties were impacted by the widespread, severe wind event.

PG&E initiated the PSPS shortly after midnight on Wednesday due to dry, windy weather and elevated fire risk across its service area. Wind gusts in excess of 70 miles per hour were recorded Wednesday evening and into Thursday.

Once the weather subsided and the "all clear" was given to start the patrol and restoration process, the vast majority of customers who were affected by the PSPS were restored within 48 hours.

To date, PG&E has confirmed 50 instances of weather-related damage to its system in the PSPS-impacted areas, and the company has either completed or is working to complete those repairs. Examples include downed lines and vegetation on power lines.

PG&E said it will submit a report detailing the damages to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) within 10 days of the completion of the PSPS.

CPUC President orders PG&E to take multitude of corrective actions

Meanwhile, CPUC President Marybel Batjer on Oct. 14 ordered PG&E to take a multitude of immediate corrective actions “after it encountered significant problems with communication, coordination, and management” during the PSPS, the CPUC said.

“Failures in execution, combined with the magnitude of this PSPS event, created an unacceptable situation that should never be repeated,” said Batjer. “The scope, scale, complexity, and overall impact to people’s lives, businesses, and the economy of this action cannot be understated,” she said.

In a letter to PG&E CEO William Johnson on Oct. 14, Batjer and CPUC officials outlined seven major areas where immediate corrective actions are required.

CPUC staff and experts at state and PG&E operations centers witnessed problems unfolding during the event and received input from other state and local agencies to identify the immediate corrective actions required, the CPUC noted.

Some of the corrective actions outlined in the letter to PG&E include:

Accelerating the restoration of power with a goal of less than 12 hours, similar to what is required after major storms;

Enhancing efforts to minimize the size and magnitude of future PSPS events;

Developing systems and protocols to ensure public information through call centers and PG&E’s website is available during high volume, critical times;

Establishing a more effective communication structure with county and tribal government emergency management personnel to allow for emergency personnel to receive the support and information required to properly respond;

Improving processes and systems for distributing maps with boundaries to impacted counties and tribal governments that correspond to the latest PSPS impact information being provided;

Developing a list of existing and possible future agreements for on-call resources that can be called upon in case of an emergency; and,

Ensuring that PG&E personnel involved in PSPS response in Emergency Operations Centers are trained in California’s Standardized Emergency Management System. 

Several additional requirements are detailed in the CPUC’s letter to PG&E.   

In addition to the immediate corrective actions outlined in her letter, Batjer directed PG&E to perform an after-action review and file with the CPUC its response by close of business October 17, 2019, including filing weekly updates on corrective actions until all concerns have been addressed.  

The CPUC will also hold an emergency meeting on October 18, 2019, to hear from top PG&E executives about what lessons have been learned from this latest event and what steps will be taken to ensure mistakes and operational gaps are not repeated.

The meeting is intended to ensure CPUC Commissioners and staff have as much information as possible and can take additional actions as necessary ahead of future PSPS events triggered by PG&E, the CPUC noted.

Saddleridge wildfire

Meanwhile, in Southern California, a wildfire called the Saddleridge fire broke out at the end of last week near Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power on Oct. 11 tweeted that its grid operators had shut off power flow along major transmission lines in the vicinity of the fire in the Sylmar neighborhood of Los Angeles, to assist firefighting operations. “No outages as result of [transmission] lines out. Power is being rerouted into @LACity using other paths away from affected area,” the public power utility said.

LADWP subsequently noted on Oct. 11 that the wildfire had caused power outages in Granada Hills and the Sylmar neighborhoods closest to fire, which affected approximately 2,500 customers and that its crews would restore electric service to customers in Sylmar and Granada Hills affected areas as soon as conditions allowed.

Later in the day, LADWP tweeted that its crews had restored power to nearly all Granada Hills customers affected by the wildfire and that 21 customers remained out due to fire-related damage. Crews were working in the area to make repairs.

Cause of Saddleridge wildfire remains unclear

The cause of the wildfire remains unclear, but the Los Angeles Times reported on Oct. 13 that “investigators are checking on reports that flames were seen coming from a power line as the fire started Thursday night.” Sylmar residents reported “that they saw a fire burning at the base of a transmission tower near Saddle Ridge Road, an area investigators are examining as a possible ignition point.”

The tower “belongs to Southern California Edison and was energized Thursday night, said Edison spokeswoman Sally Jeun, who added it was too early to assign responsibility for the fire,” the newspaper reported.

The article said that while the utility “shut off power for thousands of customers beginning Wednesday specifically to lower the risk of destructive fires, the area where the fire started was not included in the shutdown.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Oct. 14 that Southern California Edison “alerted regulators that it suffered an electrical malfunction that may be linked to the damaging Saddleridge Fire burning in Los Angeles County.”

The report by Southern California Edison to the CPUC “was similar to one made by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. last year in the days following the Camp Fire in Butte County, the deadliest and most destructive blaze in California history,” the newspaper said.

The Los Angeles Fire Department on Oct. 14 said that the cause of the Saddle Ridge Fire remained undetermined. “The area of origin has been identified by LAFD Arson Investigators as a 50' x 70' area beneath a high voltage transmission tower,” the LAFD said in a post on its website.

“In addition to LAFD personnel, there are investigators from Southern California Edison and private insurance companies at the site. Investigators continue to work around the clock in steep terrain, thoroughly examining all aspects of the scene in an attempt to determine a cause,” the LAFD reported.