SAN FRANCISCO - As California prepared for the possibility of a very active wildfire season, PG&E alerted customers to be ready for the possibility of more planned outages, though officials said the next round of Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) will look different from previous events.
PG&E crews conduct system hardening work in the Mt. Diablo area recently. These projects involve upgrading and strengthening PG&E’s electric system in communities throughout Northern and Central California where wildfire risks are highest. (PG&E)
The utility company said its workers have been engaged in vigorous fire mitigation efforts, even amid the shelter-in-place orders. The work has included updating and strengthening power lines and other equipment, vegetation inspection and removal, and installing dozens of advanced weather stations and high-definition cameras to help better predict severe fire conditions.
The company said another integral component to the efforts will be the potential return of its PSPS program, which was first used in October of 2018 in Northern California but more widely implemented in Northern and Central California during the 2019 fire season.
A barren dairy case at a Half Moon Bay grocery store during another round of power outages last fall.
Severe fire weather -- high temperatures, extremely dry conditions, and record-high winds can trigger a PSPS. But the next time they occur, utility officials said they will look different from the last rounds of shut-offs.
PG&E said going forward, PSPS incidents will be smaller in size, with the number of customers affected reduced by about one-third, compared to a similar weather event last year.
They will also be shorter in length. "PG&E is seeking to cut restoration times in half compared to 2019 so that power is restored to the majority of customers within 12 daylight hours after severe weather has passed,” the company said in a press release.
Officials acknowledged the additional hardships and risks involved in having power shut off during a public health crisis. "We understand the importance of keeping the lights on, especially given the current stay-at-home orders,” PG&E said. "We are determined to do everything possible to address both the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of catastrophic wildfires. Our overriding goal is to ensure public safety and Public Safety Power Shutoff is an important tool for doing so."
The company noted that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was seeking ways for a smoother process in which to roll out the power shut-offs. To that end, PG&E also said another area of improvement was to offer customers better access to information, communication, and alerts on when their power would go off.
- Improving weather-monitoring technology, including installing new weather stations to more precisely predict the need for and timing of PSPS events.
- Improving customer alerts with earlier estimates of restoration timing.
- Upgrading Community Resource Centers (CRCs) so that customers without power have a place to go for device-charging and other basic needs. PG&E remains flexible with CRC deployment plans to adjust to the COVID-19 restrictions and best practices.
- Establishing a new collaborative working approach with cities, counties, tribes and critical-service providers.
- Bolstering pge.com website capacity.
PG&E said its team of meteorologists continued to closely monitor the weather conditions, in anticipation of another high-risk fire season. "While it is difficult to make specific predictions for the fire season, we do know the weather was very dry," PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian told KTVU, adding "PG&E is continuing to build our own network of weather stations to better predict and respond to extreme weather threats."
To date, more than 630 new weather stations and 140 new high-definition cameras have been installed, aimed at increasing visual coverage across high fire-risk areas, according to Sarkissian, who said the company was planning to up that number in the coming years.
The company said residents can also do their part in getting prepared for a PSPS by updating their contact information here. Officials also stressed the importance of establishing an emergency ready plan.
For more information and tips go to safetyactioncenter.pge.com.