To help protect customers and further reduce wildfire risk during this historically hot and dry season, we have 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 are already helping 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, PG&E has seen a 50% decrease in ignitions that could have resulted in catastrophic wildfires compared to the prior three-year average, and a 90% decrease in the rate of outages leading to ignition 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 July and October 2021, there was a 43% reduction in the average number of customers impacted and a 25% reduction in average outage length.
We are working hard to continue to reduce the impact of these outages, while keeping our customers and communities safe. We will turn these adjusted settings off at the end of wildfire season once rainfall increases.
PG&E has implemented 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:
Improvements in place
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.
This fall, we are hosting EPSS Webinars for impacted communities. For the most up-to-date list of upcoming schedules and past recordings, please visit our dedicated webinar page.
NOTE: Please check back as our webinar schedule continues to evolve.