Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) received an independent report today detailing root cause analyses of the 2017 North Bay and 2018 Camp fires, conducted by Envista Forensics at the direction of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).Safety
While Envista recommends some enhancements to PG&E’s wildfire mitigation efforts, it also found that after the wildfires, PG&E instituted prudent responses to mitigate future wildfire events. According to the report, PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) and Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings (EPSS) programs have directly reduced the likelihood of electrical system wildfire ignitions.
Envista conducted the root cause analyses as required by the CPUC’s 2020 Wildfire Order Instituting Investigation (OII) settlement agreement. PG&E will respond to the Envista report findings as required within 30 days.
In its formal response, PG&E will describe measures it has taken to mitigate the risk of wildfires since the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, as well as actions PG&E is taking in response to the OII settlement agreement and Envista report, which will not be paid for by customers. In its response, PG&E also will reiterate its commitment to take further action to help keep its customers and hometowns safe from wildfires and other climate-related threats.
“PG&E is committed to keeping our customers and our hometowns safe from catastrophic wildfires and we appreciate Envista’s thorough review. We have made significant progress mitigating wildfire risk in the past five years, but we know our work is not done. We are constantly looking to improve and innovate to further enhance the safety of our energy system in light of the evolving wildfire risk. We always look forward to implementing recommendations that will further bolster safety for our customers,” said Sumeet Singh, PG&E Executive Vice President, Chief Risk & interim Chief Safety Officer.
PG&E Wildfire Mitigation Efforts Since 2017
Since the 2017 wildfire season, PG&E has taken immediate and longer-term actions to mitigate wildfire risk on its system. These efforts include:
- Situational Awareness and Intelligence: Using state-of-the art weather forecasting, Artificial Intelligence, and machine learning to help detect, prevent, and respond to the risk of wildfires; installed more than 1,300 weather stations since 2018 and plans to install or optimize 100 more stations in 2022, which expands coverage to approximately one station every 20 lines miles in high fire-risk areas; installed 502 high-definition wildfire cameras since 2018 and plans to add 98 more in 2022, to provide approximately 90% viewshed coverage in the high fire-risk areas.
- Grid Design and System Hardening: Rebuilding the electric system from the underground up, with a bold initiative to place 10,000 miles of distribution powerlines underground in high fire-risk areas including 175 miles in 2022 and ramping up to 1,200 miles a year, completing approximately 3,600 miles by end of 2026 (roughly one-third of the program), while reducing cost per mile from $3.75 million to $2.5 million. Also continuing to install stronger poles and covered powerlines and adding temporary distribution microgrids and new remote grids as part of the broader System Hardening effort.
- Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings: Piloted in 2021, these safety settings provide additional safeguards against fire ignitions by shutting off power in one-tenth of a second or less when objects such as a tree or branch fall into a line. Last year, on the 45% (11,500) of line miles in High Fire-Threat District (HFTD) areas with safety settings enabled, there was an approximately 80% reduction in CPUC-reportable ignitions that could result in a potential wildfire, compared to the prior three-year average for enabled circuits. As a result of the pilot, EPSS was deployed across all 25,500 distribution line miles in high fire-risk areas, as well as an additional 18,000 line miles in areas adjacent to high fire-risk areas; additionally, conducting reliability and operational improvements to minimize customer impacts from outages on safety setting-enabled lines.
- Asset Management and Inspections: Inspected and performed maintenance on distribution and transmission powerlines across its service area, including high fire-risk areas, on a recurring cycle using various inspection methods including climbing, aerial and drones; in 2019 inspected all structures in the HTFD extreme and elevated fire-risk areas (Tier 3 and Tier 2). In 2020 and 2021, inspected all structures in the extreme fire-risk areas (Tier 3), and one-third of the structures in the elevated fire-risk areas (Tier 2); finding and fixing conditions that posed an immediate safety risk, and completed other high-priority repairs on an accelerated risk-informed basis.
- Vegetation Management and Inspections: Implemented Enhanced Vegetation Management (EVM), which goes above and beyond regulatory requirements by expanding minimum clearances, removing overhanging branches and assessing strike potential trees in high fire-risk areas; as of June 2022, completed more than 7,000 miles of EVM safety work since the program began in 2019; in January 2022, set a goal to complete more than 1,800 miles within the calendar year, which will put total mileage at more than 8,000 in 2023.
Public Safety Power Shutoffs: Utilizing PSPS as a measure of last resort during extreme wind-driven weather conditions to mitigate the risk of catastrophic fire, while also minimizing the impact on customers; PG&E’s experienced meteorologists use cutting-edge weather models, using a network of over 1,300 advanced weather stations to forecast risk on a granular basis and factoring in vegetation in proximity to overhead lines; PSPS is scoped using advanced risk models and more than 1,200 sectionalizing devices to surgically target power shutoffs.
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