PG&E Investing $18 Billion Toward Wildfire Mitigation

California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) said it plans to invest $18 billion toward its wildfire prevention program through 2025 after sustaining major financial losses from fire-related claims over the past few years.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in 2019, and has paid billions of dollars in settlement awards tied to criminal and civil liabilities from wildfires linked to the utility’s electricity transmission infrastructure and other equipment.

The utility in a statement on March 27 said it will bury more than 2,000 miles of wires as part of its 2023-2025 Wildfire Mitigation Plan, included in a 10,000-mile undergrounding program. It also will install stronger utility poles, trim trees throughout its territory, and repair at-risk equipment.

PG&E in a plan filed with state officials said it will continue to cut power to lines as weather conditions warrant, and will also continue its public safety power shutoffs, or PSPS, during periods of exceptionally dry and windy weather.

Safety Plan

Sumeet Singh, the utility’s executive vice president for operations and chief operations officer, said if the utility’s current safety plan had been in place earlier, wildfires that occurred over the past two years likely could have avoided.

“The focus for us is that we’re going to continue to build upon the successes from last year, which really is centered around constructing, maintaining and operating our electric grid in a manner that minimizes the risk of catastrophic wildfires,” Singh said.

Several wildfires in California have been tied to PG&E’s equipment, including the 2018 Camp Fire that resulted in the deaths of 84 people. PG&E’s 2019 bankruptcy primarily stemmed from the $13.5 billion settlement with victims of that fire, and other fires that occurred from 2015 to 2017.

Reducing Risk

Southern California Edison (SoCal Edison), another major utility in the state, also filed a wildfire-prevention plan on Monday. SoCal Edison said it will continue covering conductors and burying more lines in the highest-risk locations across its territory. The utility said it has reduced the likelihood of its equipment to spark a fire by as much as 80% since 2018.

PG&E said its wildfire mitigation program should now reduce the risk of its equipment starting a blaze by more than 90%.

Singh also said PG&E will deploy new technology, including artificial intelligence, that can more easily detect a problem on a power line and also improve its response to any fires that do occur.

“Our system has never been safer, and we continue to make it safer every day,” said Singh. “Our Wildfire Mitigation Plan outlines multiple layers of protection we’re using to stop catastrophic wildfires in our hometowns. We’re also doing more than ever to reduce the impacts of EPSS [Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings] and PSPS on our customers. We want a future where our customers don’t have to choose between safety and reliability—we want both and we are working every day to make that possible.”

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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