California Utility Regulator OKs PG&E’s Wildfire Mitigation Plan

May 30, 2019

A Wildfire Mitigation Plan submitted by Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday.

The state Legislature in 2018 enacted Senate Bill 901 mandating action by the CPUC on Wildfire Mitigation Plans submitted by the electrical corporations it regulates. The commission stands to issue decisions on the 2019 plans of the three large California investor-owned utilities, the three small and multijurisdictional utilities, and two independent transmission owners.

“This decision requires PG&E to meet certain reporting requirements, capture data, improve its metrics for evaluating performance, and update its next Wildfire Mitigation Plan in the areas of inspection and maintenance, vegetation management, system hardening, and situational awareness,” the decision letter states.

PG&E sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January after facing massive liabilities in the wake of Camp Fire, which killed more than 85 people and destroyed more than 14,600 structures.

Their worst fears were realized when state fire investigators earlier this month determined that transmission lines owned by PG&E caused the Camp Fire. A bankruptcy last week judge approved a $105 million assistance fund for wildfire victims.

The CPUC in its decision letter noted there are several aspects of the company’s planned mitigation that require improvement or other follow-up activity. These areas for improvement include the following:

  1. Better metrics for analyzing how PG&E’s proposed mitigation measures fit together, as well as the individual effectiveness of each measure;
  2. Metrics and analysis to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of the company’s inspection programs, including its “enhanced” inspection program and preexisting routine inspection program, in preventing catastrophic wildfires started by utility ignitions;
  3. Further analysis and tracking of at-risk tree species;
  4. Analysis of data to determine whether PG&E’s new vegetation-pole clearances have contributed to reduced ignitions, especially during critical weather conditions;
  5. PG&E’s efforts to partner with local departments of public works to develop skilled labor and other resources and address the resource constraints it alleges;
  6. Whether recloser disabling, along with other mitigations, could reduce the need for de-energization (Public Safety Power Shutoffs or PSPS); and
  7. Additional information on how PG&E intends to share its risk analysis with first responders and other stakeholders.

“Along with this decision, the Commission is issuing a guidance decision that addresses issues that are common to all of the Wildfire Mitigation Plans, and applies to the Plans of all respondent electrical corporations,” the CPUC letter states. “Thus, PG&E is bound by both the requirements of this decision and the general guidance decision.”

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