energycioinsights

California Fire Urges Power Companies to Strengthen Their Equipment for Fire Safety

By Energy CIO Insights | Thursday, November 29, 2018

The blazing fires in Northern California’s Butte County and Malibu area of Southern California and Malibu area of Southern California have brought judgment over the power company equipment for setting off the wildfires. It is not yet clear which Power Company is responsible for the fires, but investigators are still working on determining what caused the fire. The state’s utilities have been called before regulators to plan and ensure that the equipment won’t spark future fires.

One of the strategies of power companies is to aggressively clear the bush and trees away from transmission lines, change wooden poles with metal poles and use continual surveillance to monitor wind, smoke, and other dangers. However, consumers might foot much of the bill because these efforts are expensive.

Southern California Edison estimates that the cost of fireproofing the equipment would cost $670 million and the company is requesting the Public Utilities Commission to recover the overheads by increasing the rates entirely. Power companies have spent billions of dollars in the last decade to upgrade its equipment to make it fire-safe.

The heated debates in the state Legislature held the power companies responsible for showering sparks onto a tinder-dry landscape. The law formed, requires the power companies to provide a robust plan to the Public Utilities Commission to maintain and operate their equipment in a manner that reduces the risk of catastrophic fire. Officials call it the hardening of California’s electric grid. The commission held a preliminary meeting and will release a memo in December for the companies to prepare their plans and the firms have until February to release their goals.

Companies are also taking the old approach to ensure fire safety and the work has been intensified. Power companies are expanding their weather forecasting and are planning to add 200 weather stations to cover the 70,000 square mile territory. The readings of wind, temperature, and humidity that provide early warning of high fire risk conditions will be shared with emergency officials and the public. Robust insulated lines are used to replace the old lines. The power companies are using technologies like remote-controlled cameras with infrared capabilities so that the company can closely monitor the conditions on and around the lines.

A few suggestions were made at last week’s commission hearing. A Malibu city representative said a power outage caused internet cut off and made it tough for the residents to keep abreast of emergency information. One of the solutions was to dig trenches and lay wires underground. This keeps the lines out of harm’s way and protects the lines from wildfires and makes sure that broken lines don’t spark fires. It is a costly solution and not widely adopted. This solution also depends on the location of lines and whether they are new or retrofitted. The power companies must work on their worst imperfections to avoid such incidents in the future.

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