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PG&E Goes on Offense to Combat Wildfires, Weather Extremes

Already living with some adverse financial consequences from California's devastating wildfires last fall, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) said it is going on the offensive, unveiling last week a comprehensive community wildfire safety program that is geared to reducing threats.

Billed as a response to climate-driven challenges, PG&E said plans to work with its customers as well as first responders, civic and community leaders to improve preparedness in advance of the the next wildfire season in Northern and Central California where the San Francisco-based combination utility operates.

Climate change has created a "new normal" for the nation's most populous state, and PG&E's Pat Hogan, senior vice president for electric operations, said "extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.”

The new program would include a wildfire safety operations center to monitor fire risks in real time and coordinated prevention/response efforts with first responders, along with securing added firefighting resources and expanding weather forecasting/modeling capabilities. The utility also intends to strengthen its ongoing vegetation management practices and refine its ability turn on and off power lines and related equipment in high-risk fire areas.

Part of the long-term hardening of the power infrastructure is to include coated power lines, spacing and replacement of wood poles, pre-treating poles and partnering with communities to develop and integrate microgrids to aid responses to major natural disasters.

"Our system and mindset need to be laser-focused on working together to help prevent devastating wildfires like the ones in the Northern California in October and in Southern California in December from happening again," Hogan said.

The utility is proposing to focus on three areas concerning the wildfires:

  • Prevention and emergency response;
  • Establishing rules and enhanced safety measures through input from customers and first responders; and
  • Hardening the electric system infrastructure over the long term using steel in place of wood to reduce fire threats.

The plan follows a cut to its credit ratings following the wildfires and a board decision to suspend dividends.

PG&E's plan also follows a revival in Congress of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, aka House Resolution (HR) 2862, which utility officials said they support to advance ongoing efforts to maintain rights-of-way and address vegetation maintenance issues that present risks to utility infrastructure.

"Given that a third of California is federal land, we believe the government must appropriately fund and manage their lands and forests as proposed in the wildfire funding act,” a PG&E spokesperson told NGI.

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