- Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) told the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California this week that its system may have "contributed" to nine wildfires of 10 acres or larger in 2019, including two attributed to vegetation and one to equipment.
- Judge William Alsup in an Oct. 2 order directed the bankrupt utility to provide "precise details" regarding the three related to vegetation and equipment by next Wednesday. Alsup is charged with overseeing PG&E's probation related to the deadly San Bruno, California, gas pipeline explosion in 2010.
- The number of fires sparked by PG&E's system this year marks a significant year-over-year decline, according to Bloomberg. The utility's system sparked 19 fires across a similar 2018 timeline.
PG&E is preparing for California's high wind season, including a system inspection and ramping up its proactive power shutoffs. The utility's work to reduce fire risk appears to be paying off, but Alsup is demanding answers about the fires caused by previous problem areas.
PG&E said five of the six fires Alsup did not ask for more details on were caused by third parties — three cases involved animals on their lines and two were related to cars crashing into their poles — while the cause of the final blaze is unknown.
The utility says its "analysis of these events is ongoing," with the data current as of mid-September.
"PG&E is continuing to work aggressively to further strengthen its programs and infrastructure to maximize safety and mitigate the potential wildfire risk," the utility told Alsup in a Tuesday filing, adding it "has implemented several additional measures designed to address the risk of wildfires as a result of an increased likelihood that parts of its service territory will experience drier, higher-speed winds in the coming months."
PG&E is working through an Enhanced Vegetation Management (EVM) program and as of Sept. 21 had completed identified work on approximately 760 line miles.
"PG&E’s ability to complete inspection and clearance of the 2,455 line miles forecasted for 2019 is dependent on its ability to significantly increase the number of qualified personnel engaged in the EVM effort," the utility told the court.
PG&E is hiring additional personnel but also said its ability to complete the 2019 line miles target to be cleared "will depend on various factors including vegetation density, topography, access and environmental considerations. ... Moreover, until PG&E inspects the lines, the number of trees that require trimming or removal, which is unknown, could impact the rate at which lines can be cleared."
The utility is making speedier progress on its Wildfire Safety Inspection Program, which includes accelerated inspections of certain transmission, distribution and substation assets. PG&E told the court its program is "substantially complete with these enhanced inspections" and expects to complete inspections of the remaining few assets "as expeditiously as possible."
The utility's proactive power shutoffs are also coming into play more frequently.
"PG&E expects to de-energize more in 2019 than it did last year," the utility said. In June, PG&E conducted one PSPS event in two locations; in September, the utility shut off power in Public Safety Power Shutoff events on two days.