- Pacific Gas & Electric is planning to invest roughly $18 billion to protect its electric grid against the threat of wildfires through 2025, according to a plan filed Monday by the utility with California's Office of Energy Infrastructure Safety.
- Southern California Edison’s plan, meanwhile, estimated spending around $5.8 billion on wildfire mitigation strategies in its service territory, on measures such as installing covered conductors and transferring power lines underground in areas where the risk of fires is particularly high.
- In 2019, PG&E filed for bankruptcy after fires caused by its power lines caused more than 100 deaths in the state, and eventually paid $25.5 billion to settle its liabilities.
PG&E’s wildfire mitigation plan is based on measures that it says have previously reduced the number of acres burned in the most high-risk portions of its service territory by 99% in 2022, as compared to the 2018-2020 average. These include “system hardening” work, such as setting up covered conductors and stronger poles – as well as pruning vegetation located close to its infrastructure.
The utility is also rolling out new technologies to prevent fires, including “downed conductor detection” that allows it to better detect faults on the system.
PG&E will also focus on continuing to transfer some of its power lines underground and plans to tackle 2,100 miles of distribution lines in high fire-risk areas through 2026. If all else fails, the utility could turn to public safety power shutoffs — essentially, proactively de-energizing its system — during extreme weather conditions.
However, the utility said it is working on reducing the size and duration of these shutoffs.
“We want a future where our customers don't have to choose between safety and reliability. We want both and we are working every day to make that possible,” Sumeet Singh, PG&E’s chief operating officer and executive vice president of operations, said in a statement.
Last month, Moody’s Investors Service upgraded its outlook for PG&E and parent company PG&E Corp, in part due to its efforts to reduce wildfire risk in its service territory.
In December, Grist reported that PG&E has let go of thousands of contractors and employees including in trades related to wildfire mitigation, such as vegetation management inspectors, tree trimmers and pole testers.
The utility told ABC7 News that it reduced its pool of contractors because it had either completed or nearly completed its work plans for 2022.
SCE, meanwhile, says it has reduced the probability of its equipment causing wildfires by up to 80% since 2018.
Over the next three years, the utility will continue to focus on hardening its grid and customer care programs to further reduce that risk and the impact of public safety power shutoffs, President and CEO Steven Powell said in a statement.
Among other measures, SCE plans to set up roughly 2,850 miles of covered conductors through 2025 and inspect more than 250,000 structures on its grid each year using drones and helicopters, to identify infrastructure that needs to be repaired or replaced.
“Our wildfire mitigation efforts will add resiliency to the electric system as we navigate a changing climate and move toward increased electrification in the economy,” Jill Anderson, the utility’s executive vice president of operations, said in a statement.