Report: California utilities delaying efforts to map power lines seen as potential wildfire cause
- A review by the Bay Area News Group, published by The Mercury News, concludes that a project aiming to map power lines in order to identify those vulnerable to wildfires has been repeatedly stalled by utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric, now under investigation related to the recent wildfires in California.
- The California Public Utilities Commission initiated the line analysis in 2008; but after a decade of delays, it has yet to be completed. The most recent delay was approved just days before the recent outbreak of deadly fires.
- The CPUC has directed PG&E to preserve any evidence that connects the utility to wildfires that have ravaged Sonoma and Napa counties. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is investigating the utility's power equipment as a possible cause.
California firefighters are getting the state's wildfires under control, but the losses have been devastating. The Los Angeles Times reports 8,400 homes have been lost and 42 people died, making them the deadliest fires in the state's history.
PG&E was already facing scrutiny over the possibility its grid infrastructure may have sparked a blaze, and reports over the mapping project delays add to the pressure. The project was initiated after a catastrophic fire in 2007 hit San Diego. But over the summer, PG&E told the CPUC that new rules would “add unnecessary costs to construction and maintenance projects in rural areas.”
San Jose Mercury News reports that PG&E declined to answer specific questions about the mapping project, with spokesman Keith Stephens only saying the utility was focusing on the “safety and the well-being of the customers” impacted by the fires.
According to San Jose Mercury News, the CPUC expects the mapping process to be completed early next year and be combined with stronger regulations for areas with "elevated" or "extreme" risk of wildfires. Potential requirements could include increasing the distance between power lines and vegetation and ensuring utility poles can withstand higher wind speeds, CPUC said.
Last week, PG&E said that after 10 days of work it had "restored electric and gas service to essentially all customers who can receive it at this time."
- The Mercury News PG&E helped stall effort to map risky power lines prone to wildfires
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