California regulators moving quickly to review utility fire mitigation plans
- The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) opened a proceeding Thursday to review utility fire mitigation measures, including new requirements set by recent state legislation following a devastating fire season in 2017.
- California regulators are working urgently to assess utility wildfire mitigation plans. In its first steps, the commission set a framework to provide guidance on initial utility plans, which utilities are expected to file in February 2019.
- The CPUC is working on an expedited schedule due to the demands of Senate Bill 901 and the approaching 2019 fire season. "As such, at times the proceeding may move very quickly, with either shortened deadlines or fewer rounds of input," the commission said in a statement.
Regulators made no bones about their timeline, pointing to a fire season that seems to begin earlier — and last longer — every year. They say they are aiming to have the initial set of electric utility wildfire mitigation plans approved "as close to the beginning of summer 2019 as possible," as called for by SB 901.
"All parties should be prepared to act on short deadlines so the CPUC can meet the legislative mandate, consistent with due process," the CPUC said in a statement.
Investor-owned utilities were required in 2017 to develop mitigation plans, but the new legislation made several changes, including more rigorous requirements for what information utilities need to provide.
"Our immediate task is to develop the first round of the annual utility wildfire mitigation plans and to consider requirements for subsequent plans in the future," CPUC President Michael Picker said in a statement, calling the issue "vital for the safety of California."
The commission also said it has been working with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire). Based on that collaboration, "the proceeding opened today will include development of proposed guidance for what the electric utilities' wildfire mitigation plans should contain."
CalFire previously determined electric equipment owned by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) caused a dozen wildfires that killed 18 people and burned hundreds of square miles. That finding led PG&E to raise the specter of bankruptcy.
SB 901 originally included language that would have changed utility fire liability rules and the state's interpretation of "inverse condemnation." California courts use an interpretation of the doctrine that holds utilities accountable for wildfires caused by their equipment, even if a company is not found negligent.
That language was ultimately removed so the bill could pass, leading to the proceeding opened by CPUC last week.
PG&E, Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric, Liberty Utilities (CalPeco Electric), Bear Valley Electric Service and Pacific Power, a division of PacifiCorp, must all respond to the commission's order. In September, SCE rolled out a $582 million set of grid hardening initiatives in response to SB 901.
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