Community Wildfire Safety Program
To help meet the climate-driven challenge of increasing wildfires and extreme weather events, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is taking action with a comprehensive Community Wildfire Safety Program. PG&E is working in close coordination with first responders, civic and community leaders, and customers on efforts that will have an immediate impact on reducing wildfire threats and improving safety.
Years of drought, extreme heat and 129 million dead trees have created a “new normal” for California. In the interest of public safety, and following the wildfires in 2017, PG&E is implementing additional precautionary measures intended to reduce the risk of wildfires. PG&E is continuously evolving its operating practices in response to new standards and regulations – but this new normal means even more must be done in partnership to strengthen the safety and resilience of the state’s energy infrastructure.
PG&E’s multi-faceted Community Wildfire Safety Program focuses on three key areas: bolstering wildfire prevention and emergency response efforts, working with customers and first responders to put in place new and enhanced safety measures, and doing more over the long term to harden the electric system to help reduce wildfire threats and to keep customers safe.
Nothing is more important to PG&E than keeping our customers and communities safe. Extreme weather events driven by climate change are causing unprecedented and unanticipated wildfires. Our Community Wildfire Safety Program will help reduce wildfire threats and strengthen our communities for the future.
With the start of the 2018 wildfire season right around the corner, we are working in partnership with our customers and first responders to take action across our service area with a comprehensive Community Wildfire Safety Program.
Wildfire Prevention and Emergency Response Efforts
PG&E is bolstering wildfire prevention and emergency response efforts, working in coordination with first responders, public safety agencies, and other community partners.
- PG&E is establishing a Wildfire Safety Operations Center to monitor wildfire risks service area-wide in real-time and coordinate prevention and response efforts with first responders. It will be staffed with highly qualified electric operations, safety, engineering, and other professionals. The Center will also serve as our on-the-ground communications hub and will partner with local government, first responders, media and other stakeholders to provide advance and real-time emergency response information to local communities.
- PG&E is increasing fire safety resources to protect critical utility infrastructure such as poles, power lines and other electrical equipment during fires, to assist utility crews working in high fire-danger areas, and to support first responders. These fire services personnel will be stationed to assist PG&E crews working in high fire-danger areas to ensure a quick response in the event of any possible
ignition. While PG&E already works closely with CAL FIRE and local first responders to prepare for emergencies, these contracted personnel and resources will be available to provide additional support to local first responders across our service area, as needed, in the event of a wildfire.
- PG&E will expand the company’s weather forecasting and modeling by installing a network of PG&E-owned and operated weather stations across the service area. This will further advance our weather forecasting capabilities to monitor and forecast weather conditions and better predict where a wildfire could occur so we can respond quickly and appropriately to keep our customers safe. PG&E’s meteorologists will partner with fire safety experts to review data and determine any needed action as part of our wildfire prevention and response efforts. We are also working to improve fire risk models that can help better determine the likelihood of a fire ignition in a high fire-risk area.
New and Enhanced Safety Measures
PG&E is working with our communities to put in place new and enhanced safety measures to help reduce wildfire risks and keep customers safe.
- PG&E will augment its already rigorous vegetation management practices based on the High Fire-Threat District map adopted in January 2018 by the California Public Utilities Commission. New standards require keeping trees and limbs farther away from power lines. PG&E’s 70,000 square-mile service area includes more than 120 million trees with potential to grow or fall into overhead power lines. The CPUC adopted new regulations that require 4 feet minimum clearance year-round in high fire-threat areas. In some communities, that is an increase from the previous minimum requirement of 1.5 feet. Meeting the CPUC minimum clearance requirement at all times will require creating clearances greater than 4 feet at many locations – potentially to 12 feet or more – to ensure compliance until the next inspection. Beyond the new clearance requirements, PG&E will also work with communities and customers in high fire-threat areas to create fire safety zones around power lines by reducing vegetation and brush that can act as fuel in case of a wildfire from 15 feet or more on either side of power lines. This work will increase defensible space in our communities and provide access for emergency responders including CAL FIRE and local fire departments responding to wildfires.
- PG&E will refine and execute protocols for proactively turning off electric power lines in areas where extreme fire conditions are occurring. We know how much people rely on electric power, and would only consider temporarily turning lines off when it’s absolutely necessary for safety reasons. PG&E will also be working with and listening to our communities to be sure we work together to provide the resources and support they need if we need to turn off power. As part of this process, we are looking at how best to support a multi-faceted community notification system to help customers prepare and stay safe while the power is off.
- PG&E is expanding our practice of disabling line reclosers and circuit breakers in high fire-risk areas during fire season and during periods of high fire-threat. Reclosers help maintain the safety of our system by avoiding sustained power outages – without a reclosing device, even a temporary fault can often lead to longer outages. However, disabling of reclosing technology may reduce the probability of fire ignition associated with a power line. PG&E will be disabling reclosers on electric distribution and transmission lines that feed areas the CPUC has designated as being at elevated or extreme risk of wildfire.
Harden Our Electric System and Integrate New Technologies
For the longer term, PG&E is doing more to harden our electric system and integrate new technologies to make a stronger and more resilient grid for the communities it serves.
- In the last five years, PG&E has invested $15 billion to enhance and harden its electric transmission and distribution assets. Over the longer term, PG&E will be working to enhance the overall construction of our electric system to reflect the changing environmental conditions of its service area and to improve system resiliency. These improvements include:
- Investing in stronger, coated power lines,
- Replacing wood poles with non-wood poles in certain areas in the coming years, and
- Spacing lines farther apart to prevent line-on-line contact during wind storms.
- PG&E will expand our practice of pre-treating electric poles with long-term fire retardant in areas where the fire danger is high. Long-term retardants can be applied several days prior to fire passage and remain effective for days and even weeks after application.
- PG&E is partnering with communities to develop and integrate microgrids to enhance grid resiliency and improve electric service reliability in the event of a major natural disaster. We are working to enhance grid flexibility and resilience with microgrid technology through innovative demonstrations, including temporary generation and deploying new storage technologies. We are also looking at how we can partner with communities to advance community-designated energy resilience zones in certain areas to provide additional support in the event of a widespread grid outage and help improve public safety.
Why PG&E is Taking Action with the Community Wildfire Safety Program
Years of drought, extreme heat and 129 million dead trees have created a “new normal” for our state, and we must continue to adapt to meet these challenges. This new normal, evident in the 2017 wildfires, means we must partner to do even more to strengthen the resiliency and safety of our energy infrastructure and the customers we serve.
Extreme weather is increasing the number of large wildfires and the length of the wildfire season in California. In 2017 alone, CAL FIRE confronted 7,117 wildfires, compared to an average of 4,835 during the preceding five years. Five of the 20 most destructive wildfires in the state’s history burned between October and December.
PG&E recognizes that we can’t do this alone. We need to work together with civic and community leaders, first responders, state leaders, and other energy companies on solutions and new ways of thinking to stay ahead of California’s changing climate and ensure the ongoing delivery of safe and reliable energy.
What the Community Wildfire Safety Program Means for PG&E Customers
We want to work together to share information, provide resources and help our customers and communities prepare for and stay safe during extreme weather events. We are also developing a roadmap for longer-term investments that will help improve the safety and resiliency of our state’s energy infrastructure.
The Community Wildfire Safety Program will help PG&E do even more to partner with our customers to help them prepare for wildfire season, let them know what we are doing to keep them and their families safe, and answer any questions they may have.