PG&E takes ‘unprecedented’ steps to mitigate impact of 2020 wildfires

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After a series of Public Safety Power Shutoff, or PSPS, events that left many without power in 2019, PG&E decided to take a different approach to wildfire mitigation.

The company published a press release Thursday outlining its plans to lower the impact of the upcoming wildfire season. According to the press release, these plans include increasing mitigation tools, expanding customer support availability and decreasing the span of PSPS events.

“The public can be assured of PG&E’s unwavering efforts to improve public safety and further reduce wildfire risk,” said Michael Lewis, senior vice president of electric operations for PG&E, in the press release. “The steps we are taking to keep our customers and communities safe are unprecedented.”

In terms of mitigation tools, the press release notes that PG&E plans to install stronger poles and underground power lines as part of “system hardening.” It has also begun to install transmission line switches, which can redirect power to communities in need, according to the press release.

According to PG&E spokesperson Jeff Smith, the company has increased its aerial patrol to monitor power lines and identify problems before they become a threat as well.

PG&E set up advanced weather stations and high-definition cameras, four of which are in Alameda County, according to Berkeley Fire Department spokesperson Keith May.

“We’ve installed wildfire cameras, which allow us to, on a digital camera, identify wildfires just as they’re starting and address them before they have an opportunity to spread,” Smith said.

Another technique PG&E employed during the 2019 wildfire season was PSPS events, May noted; however, in the midst of a pandemic, PG&E is aware that electricity is more essential than ever, according to its website.

With that in mind, its goal is to make PSPS events smaller, shorter and smarter, according to the press release. This includes cutting the number of customers affected by one-third and shortening the time it takes to restore power.

“When a Public Safety Power Shutoff is implemented, we will restore power within 12 daylight hours after the challenging weather has concluded,” Smith said.

The effort to mitigate wildfire impact isn’t solely a PG&E effort, May said.

According to May, the Fire Department works closely with PG&E to plan for PSPS events and, among other initiatives, sets up community resilience centers. Both the Fire Department and PG&E are also trying to spread the word about preparedness and evacuation procedures within the community.

“We’re doing everything that we can do to prepare, practice and be aware,” May said. “I hope that the community does the same.”

For more information on the measures PG&E has implemented for wildfire mitigation, May added, residents can attend the company’s informational webinar June 10.

Contact Veronica Roseborough at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @v_roseborough