Acknowledging the risk for another above-average wildfire season, Edison International CEO Pablo Pizarro said recently he was confident the Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) utility was prepared.

California avoided the “catastrophic widespread damage” of the 2017 and 2018 fire seasons even with last year’s all-time record acreage scorched, he said during the first quarter conference call last week.

The budget for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) is 45% more  than five years ago, and there are 30% more firefighters than in 2019, he said. Enhanced personnel and equipment should “help the state to move more quickly to combat wildfires before they become catastrophic.” 

California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) also has been engaged with utilities on insurance coverage and public safety power shutoffs (PSPS). SCE also has stepped up its wildfire mitigation efforts. It plans to have 2,500 miles of overhead transmission lines in high-risk fire areas, or 25% of the most vulnerable lines, hardened by the end of this year, Pizarro said.

“The combination of investments and actions by the CPUC and utilities gives us increasing confidence in Edison International’s improved risk profile with respect to wildfires,” he said. “All of this fire work is a building block for longer-term [grid] reliability and resilience, which will be essential as electrification increases dramatically across the entire economy for decarbonization.”

Pizarro said he supports the Biden administration’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal and hopes to work with the administration on what it could mean for the energy utility sector.

“SCE continues to invest in its infrastructure and new technologies to reduce the risk of fires associated with electric infrastructure, increase accuracy in fire weather forecasting, enhance its operational practices and improve its PSPS program,” he said. Addressing climate change with a “transition to a clean energy economy will place greater demands on electrical infrastructure and require significant incremental investments.”

For 1Q2021, SCE’s holding company reported net income of $259 million (68 cents/share), compared with $183 million (50 cents) for the same period last year.