PG&E to Deploy New Risk Modeling and Fire Spread Technology to Further Reduce Wildfire Risk
PG&E’s 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan Also Aims to Continue to Reduce Wildfire Risk and Improve Public Safety Power Shutoffs
SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–In a proposal filed today with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E or the Utility) detailed its ongoing strategy to reduce wildfire risk, increase situational awareness, and deploy new technology and models to help keep customers and communities safe. Improvements to its 2021 Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) program were also proposed.
PG&E’s 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan (WMP) enhances the company’s ongoing, comprehensive Community Wildfire Safety Program designed to address the growing threat of severe weather and wildfires across its service area.
“The last few years have demonstrated how California’s wildfire season continues to grow longer and more devastating. We are continuing to evolve to meet the challenging conditions to more effectively reduce wildfire risk,” said Sumeet Singh, Senior Vice President and Chief Risk Officer. “We are accountable to our customers and our communities that we are privileged to serve. The safety actions and programs outlined in our Wildfire Mitigation Plan provide details for our continued commitment to the critical work of providing safe and reliable service.”
The 2021 WMP focuses on three key areas:
- Reducing wildfire potential by inspecting and repairing equipment, conducting enhanced vegetation management, and investing in grid technology and system hardening;
- Improving situational awareness by installing weather stations and high-definition cameras throughout PG&E’s service area, investing in PG&E’s Wildfire Safety Operations Center that monitors high-fire threat areas in real time, and investing in meteorology to monitor weather conditions; and
- Continuing to make the PSPS program better and build on the improvements from the 2020 program by upgrading the electric system to ensure PSPS is a last resort and improving support for impacted customers and communities when PSPS is necessary.
Reducing More Wildfire Risk at a Faster Pace Using Improved Risk Modeling
For 2021, PG&E is implementing a new Wildfire Risk Model that can comprehensively assess and prioritize its safety work, including system hardening and enhanced vegetation management. This builds upon the previous model and uses advanced software and machine learning for predicting fire ignitions and improving fire spread simulations for determining the potential impacts of a wildfire.
“This new technology will allow us to more accurately prioritize our efforts within the highest fire-threat areas,” said Debbie Powell, Interim Head of Electric Operations. “Because of this advanced model, customers may see a shift in where we are conducting wildfire safety work in the coming years. We appreciate their patience as we adapt to changing environmental conditions.”
Continuing to Improve Public Safety Power Shutoffs
The core purpose of PG&E’s PSPS program is to keep customers and communities safe during extreme weather events. The company will continue to build on its 2020 PSPS improvements and work to make the program better for customers and communities as part of the 2021 WMP plan.
These efforts, many of which build off progress made in previous years, include:
- Using better weather monitoring technology and installing new weather stations to more precisely forecast the weather that could lead to PSPS events;
- Sending customers alerts with information about when power will be turned off and back on;
- Installing more than 260 devices that limit the size of outages;
- Installing and deploying microgrids that use generators to keep the electricity on;
- Deploying more crews for inspection and restoration efforts;
- Opening Community Resource Centers to support customers without power;
- Providing a website with higher bandwidth to provide information to all customers; and
- Partnering with the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers and other community-based organizations to conduct outreach and provide resources for the disabled and aging populations.
Building Upon Important Safety Work Completed in 2020
In 2020, PG&E completed important safety enhancements and investments to help keep its customers and communities safe including:
- Cleared vegetation around thousands of miles of power line via Enhanced Vegetation Management work: PG&E crews and contractors pruned or removed trees with a higher potential for wildfire risk along approximately 1,878 miles of distribution lines.
- Made the electric system stronger and more resilient: Installed stronger and more resilient poles and covered power lines on 342 line-miles and undergrounded 30 line-miles in Butte County.
- Completed wildfire safety inspections: Inspected 100 percent of its electrical infrastructure in the extreme fire-threat area (Tier 3) and accelerated inspections in other High Fire-Threat District areas.
- Installed hundreds more weather stations: Installed 404 weather stations to more precisely forecast the weather that could lead to PSPS events.
- Turned on more high-definition cameras: Installed 216 high-definition cameras, an effective tool for early spotting of wildfires and monitoring real-time conditions.
- Utilized temporary microgrids: Established six temporary microgrids and prepared 62 substations to receive temporary generation to keep the power on in some locations during PSPS events.
- Reduced the scope and impact of PSPS events: PSPS events in 2020 were 55 percent smaller than they would have been in 2019 under similar weather conditions. That means PG&E avoided a PSPS event for more than 800,000 customers.
- Faster restoration: Power was restored more than 40 percent faster in 2020 after severe weather passed, as compared to 2019.
PG&E also embraced feedback that it received from regulators, its federal monitor and others on gaps in its processes in 2020 and is working to further improve in 2021.
Impact to Customer Bills
The forecasted cost of wildfire mitigation programs described in the plan is about $3 billion each year for two years (2021-2022). The costs reflect PG&E’s best estimate of the costs for the proposed programs as of Feb. 5, 2021. Actual costs may vary substantially depending on actual conditions and requirements.
PG&E’s 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan is subject to public review and approval by the CPUC. PG&E strongly supports and encourages its customers and communities to provide feedback and participate in this important public process.
Customer Preparedness Resources
For more information about preparedness resources, visit PG&E’s Safety Action Center. The Safety Action Center provides information to help customers keep their family, home, and business safe during natural disasters and other emergencies. The site includes tips on how to create a personalized emergency plan, what to pack in an emergency supply kit, and how to prepare in advance for power outages and PSPS events. To learn more, visit safetyactioncenter.pge.com.
Cautionary Statement Concerning Forward-Looking Statements
This news release includes forward-looking statements that are not historical facts, including statements about the beliefs, expectations, estimates, future plans and strategies of PG&E Corporation and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (the “Utility”), including but not limited to the Utility’s 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan. These statements are based on current expectations and assumptions, which management believes are reasonable, and on information currently available to management, but are necessarily subject to various risks and uncertainties. In addition to the risk that these assumptions prove to be inaccurate, factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those contemplated by the forward-looking statements include factors disclosed in PG&E Corporation and the Utility’s joint Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2019, their joint Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q for the quarters ended March 31, 2020, June 30, 2020 and September 30, 2020, and their subsequent reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. PG&E Corporation and the Utility undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether due to new information, future events or otherwise, except to the extent required by law.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG), is one of the largest combined natural gas and electric energy companies in the United States. Based in San Francisco, with more than 20,000 employees, the company delivers some of the nation’s cleanest energy to 16 million people in Northern and Central California. For more information, visit pge.com and pge.com/news.