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Technological refinements designed to help PG&E more narrowly focus power shutoffs


PG& E called for no Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) in 2023, a year largely free of big wildfires in California.

But even if 2024 sees a return to something more resembling 2020, when more than 9,900 fires burned almost 4.4 million acres of Califor-nia – more than 4% of the state’s total acreage – PG& E hopes its technology that detects fire dangers from power line problems will both prevent some of those fires from starting and keep resulting Public Safety Power Shutoffs to a minimum.

The technology is called Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings (EPSS), detection technology that prompts power lines to automatically turn off within one-tenth of a second when triggered.

“EPSS improvements have helped reduce the number of PSPS actions” by helping narrow the area where fire is a threat and where a hazard has been detected, said Denny Boyles, a spokesman for PG& E’s PSPS and EPSS programs. “And our forecasting constantly evolves.”

Such detection measures, Boyles said, take on more importance in a world where the power that consumers use can come from increasingly complex circuits and transmission line routes. Homes and GRF Trust buildings in Rossmoor, for example, get electricity supplied by different circuits. Boyles confirmed that there are 28 addresses within Rossmoor – either residential or commercial locations – identified as prospective pow-er shutoff locations. He would not identify specific locations or addresses, citing privacy concerns. But he said the locations of such PSPS “zones,” even zones comprising a single address, are determined by factors including areas susceptible to high winds or in heavily forested areas, and/or are supplied electricity by power transmission lines that run through vulnerable areas.

Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings triggers, Boyles said, can be a tree branch falling onto a transmission line, or an animal getting into a transformer, or a traffic accident knocking down a utility pole and/or wires, or even high winds – any of which can cause a fire. This detection technology is mostly concen-trated in areas where wildfire risk is relatively high.

By narrowing the area where a hazard is, Boyles said, the range of wire and circuits that need to be shut down as part of Public Safety Power Shutoffs is minimized. The EPSS technology is also believed to have helped cut down on the number of wild-fire starts; PG& E states that, in 2022, there was a 68% re-duction in wildfire “ignitions” along EPSS-equipped power lines over the previous year.

The PSPS initiative was started in 2018 as part of the utility’s Community Wildfire Safety Program. That year, PG& E equipment issues were blamed for starting the Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and destroyed more than 18,000 structures in Butte County.

PG& E sp oke s p e r s o n Tamar Sarkissian said GRF would receive notification of a power shutoff impacting GRF-specific service agreements, but not for those affecting Rossmoor residents, whom she said would receive their own notifications of any PSPS via email, phone call and/or text.

Tom Cashion, GRF’s public safety manager, said his office would send out a Nixle message advising of any pow-er shutoff action if GRF were made aware of it.

Anyone registered with PG& E’s Medical Baseline Program, which provides people dependent on having electric power for refrigerating certain medications, or to operate needed medical equip-ment, will receive notification, Boyles said.

“Anyone with such medical needs will be notified (of an impending power shutoff) by whatever means is needed, including a knock on the front door,” Boyles said.