PG&E reaches major transition point in wildfire safety

Pacific Gas and Electric delivered a major update on its Wildfire Safety Inspection Program. 

The program aims to inspect PG&E's system head to toe where it's needed most. 

PG&E is switching from emergency inspection mode to a better inspection, maintenance and surveillance mode of its vast system. 

More than a year into it and now greatly accelerated since the Paradise Fire, PG&E's Wildfire Safety Inspection Program took a very close inch-by-inch, piece-by-piece look its complex electrical system in wildfire areas. 

"More than half of PG&E's service areas— that's 72,000 sq. miles, is designated as extreme or elevated high fire risk," said PG&E Wildfire Safety Vice President Sumeet Singh.

In all, the utility closely inspected 222 substations. 50,000 transmission structures, 30,500 miles of power lines and 700,000 distribution poles. 

"We brought in more than 2,000 qualified linesmen outside of California to help us with all of the inspection work, in terms of doing the inspection as well as being able to do the repair," said Singh. 

More than 12,000  serious safety risks were found and immediately corrected or in the midst of being corrected.

For example, a power major line feeding Sausalito through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area will have nearly all of its towers replaced. 

"While we have made progress, we have more work to do," said Singh.

Vegetation management will be greatly enhanced. 

In the next couple of years, PG&E will have installed 1300 weather stations and 600 cameras to quickly detect fire conditions and fires. 

In critical areas, the system will be made much stronger and more resilient with covered conductors, stronger wire anchors and beefed up support structures, some many decades old. 

"We have identified that we have to go beyond the regulatory requirements and really employ a risk-based approach across every facet of our programs," said Singh. 

In other words, if a condition can have serious consequences, correct it without bureaucratic delay. 

"We need to do better and our unwavering focus is the safety of our customers and the communities that we have the privilege of serving," Singh said.

The Utility Reform Network, TURN,  said all of this could have been avoided long ago if PG&E had done its duties then. 

But, in no case, does TURN believe that ratepayers should pay the $2.3 billion bill for the upgrades, a decision to be made by the California Public Utilities Commission.