Power outages could affect Lassen County residents this summer as PG&E implements its Public Safety Power Shutoff program, but if there’s enough warning, power users may not even experience a lapse in the utility.
Dan Blair, government relations representative for PG&E, shared information with the Lassen County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, July 9 regarding what the company is changing, and how safety measures might affect residents.
According to Blair, the large utility is working on its Community Wildfire Safety Program following several years of catastrophic fires, with PG&E being found at fault for the most notable: Paradise’s Camp Fire in November.
As a result, PG&E has accelerated inspections of its infrastructure, installed stronger poles and covered power lines, enhanced vegetation work and are planning to add about 1,300 new weather stations and 600 high-definitions cameras by 2022 to improve awareness of fire danger conditions. PG&E also is continuing the Public Safety Power Shutoff program, according to Blair.
The power shutoff program looks at all electric lines that pass through high fire-threat areas, both distribution and transmission, which was recently added.
“After the Camp Fire, and evaluating the cause and determining it was, in fact, a transmission line during a high wind event, we have no included transmissions lines into this program,” Blair said.
Should there be a risk with varying factors, including red flag warnings, low humidity levels, strong forecasted winds, dry fuels on the ground and real time observations, PG&E hopes to give at least 48-hour notice of power shutoffs to affected communities, although notification times will vary.
PG&E customers can sign up to receive notifications at pge.com/mywildfirealerts; however, with many county residents not being PG&E customers, they should receive updates from main utilizes, the Lassen Municipal Utility District and the Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative.
Both LMUD and PSREC do not buy power from PG&E, its main transmission feed is from PG&E through the Feather River Canyon. If a Public Safety Power Shutoff event de-energizes the connected feeds, residents could lose power.
With enough warning, though, according to LMUD Public Relations Manager Theresa Phillips, the local utility will be able to set up an islanding agreement with Honey Lake Power, the biomass plant near Wendell. If PG&E offers enough notice, Phillips said users may not even notice a change in power.
LMUD noted it would provide as much notice as possible on an upcoming shortage on the website, lmud.org, on its Facebook page and via text. To sign up for messages, text “LMUD” to 95577.
For PSREC, there is a back-up feed that comes to members from NV Energy to support the system. However, the backup is not always available, and when available during peak hours, it may not be enough, the cooperative shared on its website.
PSREC noted it would post information on psrec.coop, on social media and via text message. To sign up for messages, text “PSREC” to (800)555-2207.
Blair mentioned PG&E would provide cooling centers in some affected areas, where those without power can have a place to cool down, charge small devices and drink water.
He also noted PG&E customers who use medical devices dependent on power will be notified by either call, a personal visit, or a flier on the doorknob, if they are unable to be reached.
“This is our last option that we are going to initiate. We do realize there is a risk. This is a risk-based decision … it’s making the decision of what risk is worse,” said Blair. “The reality, though, is that the devastation of an event like the Camp Fire just can’t happen again.”
During the supervisors meeting, board members and county staff made comments and asked questions regarding PG&E and the potential power outages.
County Administrative Officer Richard Egan asked if PG&E had completed any analysis on the dangers of power being shut off, noting additional fire risk from generator use and outdoor cooking.
Blair noted he didn’t know of any analysis but said both sides have risks.
Supervisor Aaron Albaugh thanked PG&E for owning up to causing fires, but noted the utility could improve by helping local communities by continuing to purchase power from biomass plants and allowing for other sources of power should the transmission lines go down.
There was also talk about PG&E’s bankruptcy status, with Blair noting the company hopes to be out of bankruptcy by mid 2020, and discussions on how long power could be out in certain instances.
Blair noted PG&E has to go through several steps before re-energizing transmission and distribution lines. He said the utility would consider weather, then would being patrolling and inspecting the lines, isolating and repairing any damage and then restore power.
On PG&E’s website, it noted customers could be without power for around 48 hours.
For more information about PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoff plan, visit pge.com/wildfiresafety, or call (866) 743-6589.