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California utilities present plans for public safety power shutoffs in 2022

Potential PSPS on the Central Coast
PG&E
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PG&E has an interactive map of areas that could see PSPS.

With major wildfires burning across California, the California Public Utilities Commission is looking to create transparency on how utilities are handling wildfire risk. The commission held a meeting yesterday requiring utilities like PG&E to present their plans for Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS).

These shutoffs when utility companies shut off their power due to extreme weather conditions that could start wildfires.

At Tuesday’s meeting, utilities like PG&E and SoCal Edison presented their PSPS plans for 2022. According to PG&E, high winds can cause trees and debris to damage electric lines and cause wildfires like the 2018 Camp Fire and last year's Dixie Fire.

Director Caroline Thomas Jacobs from the state’s Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety said these shutoffs have been causing blackouts that are especially hard on low resource communities.

power_lines.jpg
flickr / member Andrew Imanaka
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Power lines transporting energy for utility companies like PG&E.

“We're pushing the utilities to continue to improve their efforts to reduce the need for PSPS, and ensure they are fully contemplating the consequences for vulnerable and marginalized communities,” Thomas Jacobs said.

Mark Quinlan is the Vice President of Electric System Operations at PG&E. He said the utility is entering their fifth year of PSPS, and since 2019, their automatic shutoff technology has improved.

“The results indicate that our new protocols produce smaller events that take less time to restore when weather conditions return to safe levels,” Quinlan said. He said the actions PG&E has been taking are wildfire mitigation programs such as undergrounding power lines, vegetation management, inspections and repairs.

“These actions have helped PG&E eliminate approximately 90% of the wildfire risk on our electric system, and we have a plan for the remaining risk reduction — that last 10% — by introducing new technologies,” Quinlan said.

PG&E has been convicted several times for criminal negligence going back to the 1990’s, and even plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the devastating 2018 Camp Fire. With that in mind, the push for PG&E to have more accountability is growing.

In San Francisco last month, the County Board of Supervisors voted to formally ask Governor Gavin Newsom to revoke what they call the utility’s “license to burn.” That refers to what they consider the relative lack of consequences PG&E has faced for their role in California wildfires.

The Central Coast has also experienced several outages. In June, a public safety power shutoff affected more than 3,500 people for several hours. In some cases, rural areas of California have been impacted for longer than a week due to PG&E power outages.

Gabriela Fernandez is a general assignment reporter at KCBX News. She studied political science at Sac State, interned at CapRadio and then worked as an associate podcast producer at CapRadio working on the TahoeLand podcast.
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