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Southern California Edison, PG&E Pledge Fewer Power Shutoffs Due To Wildfire Concerns

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Southern California Edison
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A Southern California Edison crew at work on a power line.

Officials tell state regulators that improvements to the power grid and in fire weather forecasting should reduce shutdowns.

It's a tool being used to combat fires during peak times like heat waves and high wind conditions — the power is turned off to prevent downed or damaged lines from sparking blazes.

But these intentional outages have created their own issues, with people sometimes left without electricity for hours or days in sweltering conditions.

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Photo By Lance Orozco
The 2017 Thomas Brush Fire was sparked by the wind interacting with the power grid

Marybel Batjer is President of the California Public Utilities Commission which regulates power companies in the state. The Commission held virtual hearings with Southern California Edison and PG&E officials Tuesday to grill them on what’s being done about the many problems caused by the shutoffs.

"Inadequate notification to impacted customers, poor communication to local governments," said Batjer. Adding that those are just some of the problems which have occurred.

Edison officials acknowledge there have been major problems. Steve Powell is Edison’s Executive Vice President of Operations.

"The level of frustration and anger from customers was hard to hear, "said Powell.

He said they are taking a number of steps to reduce the need for the shutoffs and the duration of them when they are necessary.

Powell says one of the biggest projects during the last year has been adding insulated power lines on 72 of the power circuits most impacted by precautionary shutoffs. He says the end result will be a roughly 70% drop in the need for shutdowns in those areas.

PG&E officials say one of their major improvements is using much more advanced threat prediction models. Senior Vice President and Chief Risk Officer Sumeet Singh says it means they can narrow down where and when shutoffs are needed.

Officials with both utility companies, which serve the Central and South Coasts, say while they know they have to do much better and are taking steps to do so but there will still need to be some safety shutoffs.

Both utilities say they have also been beefing up efforts to protect those at risk like home-bound people with health issues. Those efforts include helping to pay for generators and battery power packs for those in areas at risk of shutdowns.

Batjer, the President of the California Public Utilities Commission, says the agency will keep a close eye on how Public Safety Power Shutoffs are managed. She says with continued efforts to make the state’s power grid more resilient, they expect to see the need for them to decline.