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Monday, December 10 , 2018, 1:04 am | Fair 49º


Southern California Edison Announces $582 Million Plan to Reduce Wildfire Risks

Utility that provides power in southern Santa Barbara County is seeking approval for proposal from state PUC

Utility worker on power poles Click to view larger
A Southern California Edison worker balances between a composite utiliity pole, left, and a conventional pole. As part of its proposed $582 million ‘Grid Safety and Resiliency Program,’ Edison proposed to install more composite poles, which are more fire-resistant, and can better carry heavier insulated wires. (Southern California Edison photo)

Facing what it calls the “new normal,” Southern California Edison Co. on Monday announced plans for a “Grid Safety and Resiliency Program” designed to reduce the growing risk of wildfires related to its facilities and operations.

The proposal, with a $582 million price tag, was filed Monday with the California Public Utilities Commission.

“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 Phil Herrington, SCE senior vice president of transmission and distribution. “This includes a role for utilities in going beyond existing state standards and traditional utility practices to incorporate leading mitigation measures from around the world, selected based on their effectiveness.

“We are taking a holistic approach and proposing to implement measures between now and the end of 2020 that will further harden our infrastructure, bolster our situational awareness capabilities and enhance our operational practices. We also will continue to work with state leaders on policies to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire damages while ensuring equitable distribution of costs.” 

Edison delivers power to about 15 million people over 50,000 square-miles across central, coastal and Southern California, including southern Santa Barbara County.

The proposal submitted to the PUC includes four main components:

» Initiatives to further “harden” the utility’s infrastructure, including replacing nearly 600 miles of overhead power lines in high-risk fire areas with insulated wire by the end of 2020; installing 15,700 current-limiting fuses designed to interrupt current more quickly in the event of line problems; installing fire-resistant composite poles; and installing remote-controlled automatic reclosers, which keep circuits from automatically re-energizing lines until they can be inspected.

» Projects to increase situational awareness, including installation of 160 high-definition cameras that will enable emergency personnel to more quickly respond to wildfires and assess their severity; and installation of 850 weather stations that can be used to inform operational decisions and optimize resource allocation during emergency situations.

Insulated power lines Click to view larger
Southern California Edison is proposed to installed some 4,000 circuit miles of insulated wire in high-fire-danger areas. (Southern California Edison photo)

» Enhancing operational practices, including more aggressive vegetation management; use of “public safety power shutoffs” that would be implemented during extreme fire weather conditions; and expanding use of infrared inspections of overhead distribution lines to help identify equipment at risk of failure.

The move by Edison comes in the wake of several large and devastating wildfires in California over the last two years, including the massive Thomas Fire in December that destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, and subsequently set the stage for the deadly Montecito debris flows in January.

An official cause for the 281,893-acre Thomas Fire has not been released, but Edison is the target of several major lawsuits blaming the company’s equipment for sparking the fire.

Edison customers would see their rates increase to pay for the grid-safety program.

The company estimates that the average monthly bill for a residential customer would increase by about $1.20; income-qualified CARE customers would see an increase of about 81 cents per month.

The total costs include $175 million in operations and maintenance expenses and $407 million in capital spending.

SCE weather station. Click to view larger
Edison is proposing to install 850 weather stations that can be used to inform operational decisions and optimize resource allocation during emergency situations. (Southern California Edison photo)

Edison’s proposal will be reviewed by the PUC to determine its scope, timing and the reasonableness of the investment, Herrington said.

“We’re hoping for a decision as soon as possible,” he told Noozhawk.

High-risk fire areas account for more than 25 percent of Edison’s service area, Herrington said, adding that a variety of factors will be weighed to determine which ones get the upgrades first.

Of Edison’s roughly 10,000 circuit miles, some 40 percent need the system hardening, Herrington said, and the company’s goal is to complete 600 miles in the next 2 1/2 years.

“With both safety and consumer cost in mind, we believe that the portfolio of projects we are proposing will work together to provide a comprehensive approach to further minimize the risk of wildfires and increase the resiliency and reliability of our grid,” Herrington said. 

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

SCE meteorologist. Click to view larger
Increasing weather monitoring and situational awareness is part of Edison’s plan to reduce the growing risk of wildfires related to its facilities and operations. (Southern California Edison photo)

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