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California Gov. Brown Signs Wildfire Legislation Into Law

California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law a bill aimed at better managing the prevention and response to wildfires, along with 28 other bills addressing fire-related issues, but he acknowledged the complexity and inherent added costs from the legislation.

Brown called Senate Bill (SB) 901 "absolutely necessary" in establishing levels of statewide forest management activities, updates in utility infrastructure, and protections for utility ratepayers and workers. Brown said the other bills would make the state more resilient in dealing with natural outbursts linked to climate change.

"The new law is the most comprehensive wildfire prevention and safety package the state has passed in decades," said state Sen. Bill Dodd, who also authored two of the other bills, including SB 894, which is designed to help victims of disasters recover losses from their insurance companies and accelerates the time needed to help victims rebuild their homes.

After the package of wildfire bills was passed at the end of August but before Brown signed them, Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) filed a $582 million grid safety and resiliency program with regulators "to align with the wildfire mitigation plans required in SB 901."

"The devastation caused by the 2017 and 2018 wildfires 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," said SCE's Phil Herrington, senior vice president of transmission and distribution.

Herrington said SCE was "taking a holistic" approach and proposing measures that go beyond the state's new laws. Those measures call for "hardening" of the utility infrastructure, enhancing situation awareness, and expanding operational practices.

SCE proposed replacing nearly 600 miles of overhead power lines in high fire risk areas with insulated wire by the end of 2020, and replacing another 3,400 miles of overhead lines between 2021-2025. The utility also plans to add high-definition cameras and weather stations, using modeling tools more extensively, and enhancing vegetation management and its ability to de-energize portions of its system under extreme fire conditions.

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