PG&E ramps up electrical equipment inspections ahead of fire season

With fire season soon to be upon California residents, Pacific Gas and Electric Company's enhanced wildfire safety program is accelerating safety inspections of its electric infrastructure in high fire-risk areas.

Guerneville and the lower Russian River, better known for flooding, is also a higher risk summer fire area with all its trees, bushes and grasses. On Wednesday KTVU went along with some contractors that are backing up PG&E's own inspection crews. They are helping inspect PG&E's vast electrical distribution system, but not in PG&E trucks or uniforms. 

“There are a lot of different crews. Some of them are from out of state, so they will have PG&E ID. They will be happy to show you PG&E ID if you ask for it," said PG&E North Bay Spokeswoman Deanna Contreras.

The accelerated inspection program, which began last year, focused on transmission structures. As we've discussed in previous reports, increasingly, drones are providing extreme close looks and digital photo and video documentation more quickly and efficiently while complementing helicopters, ground crews and pole climbers. Now, more localized distribution equipment is being inspected at a faster pace. 

Systemwide, PG&E is accelerating inspections over 25,000 square miles of higher fire-threat areas. That includes 685,000 distribution poles, 50,000 transmission structures and 25,000 miles of power lines. 

"If it's something that's an immediate threat to public safety, they'll fix it right away, on the spot," said Contreras.

Specifically, they are documenting all of the connectors, conductors, switches, supports as well as the overall condition of the poles themselves—favorite targets of woodpeckers. 

"All across our service territory, in the Bay Area, ground inspections," said Contreras.

Now it's one thing if the power lines or the equipment is alongside a street or a road. That's relatively easy to inspect. But much of PG&E's infrastructure lies over very remote areas, including inaccessible mountains and other kinds of terrain. That is very, very hard to do. 

"That's why we want to get the word out now that these are PG&E contract crews that are doing this work," said Contreras.

While this cannot assure there will be no wildfires, it surely will reduce the odds they'll occur. All of this work is to be completely by early May.