- The California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday approved wildfire mitigation plans for the state's power companies after requiring improvements to communication protocols surrounding proactive power shutdowns.
- California utilities will need to work with the California Office of Emergency Services to integrate their warning programs for Public Safety Power Shutoffs with state agencies and jurisdictions "that have a role in ensuring that the public is notified before, during, and after emergencies," commissioners determined.
- Separately, CPUC President Michael Picker announced he intends to leave the commission this summer, once a replacement is tapped by Gov. Gavin Newsom, D. Picker has been at the PUC helm since December 2014.
Picker made his announcement yesterday, telling commission members and the public it makes a "great deal of sense" for him to step aside as the PUC signs off on utility wildfire plans.
He has led the commission through the response to deadly wildfires, and was in charge when the PUC levied a $1.6 billion fine against Pacific Gas & Electric for the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.
"It's the most frustrating job I've ever had," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. He has wondered aloud whether PG&E is now too big to regulate, according to NBC Bay Area.
The utility fell into bankruptcy due to wildfire liability, but told Utility Dive the approval of its wildfire plan marks a "progression of enhanced and additional safety precautions PG&E has implemented to address the growing threat of extreme weather and wildfires across its service area."
In April, PG&E filed revisions to its wildfire mitigation proposal, asking to push back inspection and corrective action deadlines the utility is unlikely to meet. The PUC yesterday did not address the revised deadlines, but could in a future decision.
Thursday's decision requires utilities to improve customer education and notification regarding de-energization events, which have been authorized as a possible action to avoid sparking blazes during times of high wind.
"De-energizing power lines may be necessary as a last resort to avert devastating utility caused wildfires," Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen said in a statement issued by the PUC. The decision "provides important guidance for how utilities must notify vulnerable populations, first responders, and the public about such events, and other protocols they must follow."
The commission yesterday determined seven other utilities had submitted mitigation plans that complied with legislation passed last year, SB 901, meant to improve readiness and response regarding wildfires. Those utilities include Southern California Edison; San Diego Gas and Electric; Liberty Utilities/CalPeco Electric; Bear Valley Electric Service; Pacific Power; Trans Bay Cable; and NextEra Energy Transmission West.
The commission also directed the companies to track data and assess outcomes from this fire season, so that future plans can be improved.