Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) officials on Monday defended their enhanced preparedness for lowering the risks of wildfires this year after being criticized at a hearing of the California Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee.
State officials said the San Francisco-based combination utility was lagging behind in hardening its transmission/distribution systems compared to Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. (SDG&E), which also offered fire mitigation progress reports at last week’s hearing.
Lawmakers heard from the three major power utilities, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the commission’s independent Public Advocates Office on the improvements in readiness, gaps preparedness and how Covid-19 mitigation had changed operations.
PG&E’s Debbie Powell, vice president for asset risk management and community wildfire safety, said the utility has completed enhancements to reduce the risk of the catastrophic wildfires experienced in 2017 and 2018 by improving situational awareness of weather/fire conditions and planning shorter outages. PG&E has “learned a lot from the public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) conducted several times last year and is improving the PSPS program while keeping customers and communities safe.”
CPUC President Marybel Batjer said rates at the three utilities are estimated to increase in the next year because of the collective $15 billion the trio is expecting to spend through 2023 on fire mitigation. PG&E rates are set to rise $90/year on average in 2021, with SCE up by $74 and SDG&E rising by $24 for residential customers.
SDG&E’s Brian D’Agostino told the state senators that the Sempra Energy utility has purchased a fire-suppression helicopter even though this year’s fire season is rated below normal because of late rains in March and April in Southern California.
SCE’s Senior Vice President Phil Herrington also reported on the utility’s progress in adding equipment in high-risk fire areas, including circuit miles of covered conductors, fire-resistant power poles, high-definition cameras and weather stations. He said it also has completed fire threat assessments and cleared brush on thousands of poles.
Meanwhile, PG&E also announced it would sell its headquarters complex over the next three years to move across the San Francisco Bay to Oakland. Net proceeds from the sale would be returned to customers.
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