To help protect customers and further reduce wildfire risk during the hot and dry season, we adjusted the sensitivity of our equipment to automatically turn off power faster if the system detects a problem. This is known as Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings (EPSS). These new settings have helped protect our customers from catastrophic wildfires in Tier 2 and Tier 3 High Fire-Threat District (HFTD) areas, which are at the greatest risk. Since being implemented in late July 2021, EPSS has proven effective at helping prevent potential wildfires. As of Oct. 20, when compared to the prior three-year average, we have seen a decrease of approximately 50% in reportable ignitions and approximately 80% in ignitions on EPSS circuits.
In some locations, these adjustments have resulted in more frequent outages as crews must patrol the circuit – and perform any necessary repairs – prior to restoring power. The length of the outage will vary depending on the time and location that it occurs, as well as the severity of the damage. However, since the program began in July, we have been adjusting the settings, which allows for only the area directly impacted by the fault to be impacted by the outage instead of the entire circuit. As a result, this often reduces the miles to patrol, number of customers without power and overall length of an outage.
Our ongoing efforts to improve should continue to reduce the size and length of future outages. These changes have proven effective at making outages shorter and smaller, while still helping protect our customers from catastrophic wildfires. Between late July and early November 2021, there was a 25% reduction in the average number of customers impacted and a 20% reduction in average outage length.
Given the recent rainfall, we have been restoring circuits back to their normal, pre-EPSS settings, which should result in fewer power outages. We will continue to monitor weather and fuel conditions to determine the proper settings. When high wildfire risk returns, the circuits may be adjusted to be more sensitive again. However, our ongoing efforts will continue to reduce the length, frequency and number of customers impacted by outages, without compromising safety.
We implemented these safety settings across more than 11,500 miles, or approximately 45% of the circuits in HFTD areas. These enhanced settings are intended to increase the speed at which safety devices turn off power in response to faults that could result in fire ignitions.
For example, if an object, such as a tree branch, strikes the line, the equipment will detect the change in electrical current and shut off power within one-tenth of a second. If the power is shut off, we need to check the lines for damage before safely restoring power. This process can take several hours, depending on terrain. Patrols are done by helicopter, truck or on foot most often during daylight hours.
While these adjustments make our electric system safer and further minimize wildfire risk, they may also result in more frequent, longer-duration outages. As our equipment is reacting to a potential safety issue, it is not possible to provide customers or communities with advance notice. That is why it is important to be prepared for a potential power outage, as they could happen at any time and for an unknown duration.
Importantly, outages that result from these enhanced safety settings are not Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), which are a last resort in the event of severe weather. PSPS outages come with advance notification.
NOTE: If a powerline is on your property, we may need access in order to restore power. Please allow our technicians access to patrol. The sooner they can patrol, the sooner we can restore power.
We understand the impact that losing power has on our customers’ lives, and we are working hard to reduce the outages communities are experiencing. This includes:
These adjustments are just one of the new safety enhancements we have put in place. Other efforts include:
To help keep customers who live in counties that have been impacted by EPSS informed, we developed comprehensive progress reports which outline the causes, duration and number of customers affected by recent outages. These reports share ongoing system updates and improvements that have already helped reduce the impact of these outages.
PG&E hosts online webinars throughout the year for anyone interested in learning more about our Community Wildfire Safety Program. These webinars allow community members to learn about wildfire safety and emergency preparedness, meet with PG&E representatives, ask questions and share feedback.
There are no upcoming EPSS webinars at this time. For a list of past webinar recordings, please visit our dedicated webinar page.