Following a mandate in the state’s wildfire relief law, California’s Wildfire Safety Advisory Board has adopted utility guidelines for next year, stressing closer alignment of utility mitigation plans and state oversight authorities.

California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)

Striving for a “holistic approach” to wildfire mitigation, the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) advisory board action fulfills provisions of a 2019 wildfire law calling for independent experts to advise a new wildfire safety division.

The advisory board recommendation encouraged CPUC and the utilities to develop and share best practices for reducing wildfires, particularly in the use of public safety power shutoffs (PSPS), workforce development and vegetation management.

Utilities would get a new threshold for system hardening to add more electric utility resiliency and reduce the need to call PSPS events, along with guidance to improve their safety cultures and urge the governor and legislature to keep the wildfire safety division within the CPUC.

The advisory panel offered 23 recommendations in all, including structural ones to improve existing fire mitigation plans, recommendations aligned with the safety division, and recommendations going beyond the division’s guidelines to utilities, according to CPUC spokesperson Julie Hall.

The independent board’s action comes as the state’s largest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), exited bankruptcy after 18 months in Chapter 11. As part of the emergence the utility parent company, PG&E Corp. issued an equity offering totaling $5.23 billion.

PG&E is staring at $30 billion in liabilities from the wildfires its equipment and/or operations contributed to in 2015, 2017 and 2018 across Northern California. The San Francisco-based combination utility has already raised $13.5 billion in debt to finance its bankruptcy.