- Southern California Edison (SCE) on Monday rolled out a $582 million "holistic" slate of initiatives to combat the growing risk presented by wildfires.
- SCE's Grid Safety and Resiliency Program (GS&RP) proposes grid hardening, like replacing overhead wires with insulated line and upgrading fuses and other equipment. Under "extreme fire conditions," SCE also proposed proactive blackouts — de-energizing parts of its system to protect consumers and equipment.
- SCE's proposal is in response to Senate Bill 901, which required utilities to update fire mitigation plans and included several provisions addressing utility liability.
The record damage caused by California wildfires in recent years is the "new normal," according to SCE, and demands a different approach to fire management.
The cost of recent fires "leaves no doubt that wildfire risk has increased to the point where California needs to reassess the way we collectively prepare for and prevent wildfires," SCE senior vice president Phil Herrington said in a statement.
"This includes a role for utilities in going beyond existing state standards and traditional utility practices," he said. "We are taking a holistic approach."
The utility wants to replace almost 600 miles of overhead power lines in high fire risk areas, swapping them out for insulated wires by the end of 2020. According to the utility, it would be the first large-scale deployment of insulated wire in the U.S. designed to reduce wildfire risk.
The utility also plans to replace about 3,400 miles of overhead line with insulated wire between 2021 and 2025, but said funding for that initiative would be requested in a general rate case.
SCE wants to install 15,700 current-limiting fuses, consider fire-resistant composite poles, and deploy about 100 remote-controlled automatic reclosers to respond more quickly to a fault. Alongside the grid hardening work, the utility is also proposing to install up to 160 high-definition cameras to speed the response to emerging and spreading wildfires and weather monitoring equipment, and would use infrared inspections and aggressive tree-trimming campaign to reduce risk.
"As a measure of last resort," SCE is proposing to utilize Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), where the company "proactively de-energizes portions of its system under extreme fire conditions."
Having PSPS as an option would mean SCE would roll out a new emergency notification system to send customized messages warning about the outage.
Herrington said SCE's proposal keeps "both safety and consumer cost in mind," adding that "the portfolio of projects we are proposing will work together to provide a comprehensive approach to further minimize the risk of wildfires and increase the resiliency and reliability of our grid."
Because of California's strict liability rules, utilities face financial risk in the event of a fire — even if they were in compliance with all regulations. While lawmakers have considered changing how the state interprets those rules, that reform was not a part of S.B. 901.