PG&E unveiled plans Friday to reduce wildfire risk, increase public awareness and institute technology to promote community safety through a proposal filed with the California Public Utilities Commission.
Following the wildfires that destroyed parts of California, the PG&E 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan, or WMP, aims to slow the spread of these dangerous natural disasters by introducing protocols, according to a PG&E press release. The plan will also build upon the PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff program improvements introduced in 2020.
In total, the proposals brought forth by PG&E are estimated to cost $3 billion each year for two years, with the actual number expected to fluctuate depending on changing conditions.
“The last few years have demonstrated how California’s wildfire season continues to grow longer and more devastating,” said Sumeet Singh, PG&E senior vice president and chief risk officer, in the press release. “We are continuing to evolve to meet the challenging conditions to more effectively reduce wildfire risk.”
As part of WMP, PG&E intends to decrease the risk of wildfires by repairing its equipment, improving vegetation management and hardening its grid system, according to the press release. To better assess climatic conditions, PG&E will also invest in an operations center to monitor areas with high fire risk.
Keith Gilless, dean emeritus of UC Berkeley’s Rausser College of Natural Resources and professor emeritus of forest economics, said the wildfires in California can be attributed to a multitude of causes.
Climate change coupled with increased stocking — the number of trees per acre — and tumultuous weather conditions all contributed to the increased length and intensity of last year’s wildfires, according to Gilless.
These circumstances and factors eventually coalesced into wildfires that quickly grew out of control and were especially difficult to contain, Gilless added.
“PG&E is going to have to move over time to improve their infrastructure,” Gilles said. “They also need to coordinate well with the fire service agencies where they have lines going through. That means open sharing of information and communication during incidents.”
Brandon Collins, a research scientist at Berkeley Forests, echoed many of Gilless’ sentiments. The reduced prevalence of fires that clear out land brush, combined with poor vegetation management, has worsened the wildfire crisis, Collins said.
Collins noted that the community can help mitigate the situation by facilitating open conversation and education opportunities.
“At this point, it’s pretty clear we need to do something,” Collins said. “Living with the threat of wildfire isn’t something we can live around. Voicing support and educating yourself on what appropriate vegetation management looks like, including controlled fires, is important.”