(The Center Square) – Three large and several smaller utility companies have pledged to spend a combined $13 billion toward wildfire mitigation and prevention.
Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, along with some smaller utilities, filed their annual wildfire mitigation plans Friday with California’s Public Utilities Commission with proposed plans through 2022.
PG&E’s plan totals roughly $6 billion, Southern California Edison’s and San Diego Gas & Electric’s combined mitigation plans total nearly $5 billion.
In 2020, the greatest number of wildfires occurred in recorded state history – 8,100 fires with more than 4 million acres scorched, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Many blamed the utility companies’ outdated equipment for causing a series of wildfires over the past three years. But Chuck DeVore, a former state legislator and now leader at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, maintains that California’s wildfires are a deadly consequence of “decades of environmental mismanagement that has created a tinderbox of unharvested timber, dead trees, and thick underbrush.”
Devore points to a 2019 report, ordered by the California legislature in 2010, which found that “the portion of California's National Forests protected from timber harvesting is now a net contributor to atmospheric carbon dioxide due to fires and trees killed by insects and disease.” In other words, forest mismanagement especially on government land largely has contributed to California’s worsening wildfire problem.
PG&E’s proposal through 2022 focuses on the north central regions of California. Using a new computerized risk model, the nation’s largest utility says it will be better able to determine areas most prone to wildfires and implement safety measures in these areas.
It also plans to install more fire-resistant poles, move power lines from above ground to below ground, and install weather stations and high-definition cameras throughout its 70,000-square-mile coverage area.
In order to limit power blackouts, PG&E plans to install hundreds of devices along with microgrids that rely on generators and use additional manpower to make repairs.
SCE’s plan proposes refining high fire risk inspections strategies, expanding “system hardening” efforts like installing line spacers on long power lines, establishing central data platforms, improving fire agencies’ ability to detect and respond to fires using satellite images, and providing aerial fire suppression resources like helitankers to fire departments.
Cutting off power for customers, called rolling blackouts, as the traditional ad hoc wildfire preventative measure, is outdated and residents could be better served if new technology were used, AiDash, a San Francisco Bay Area-based company, said.
AiDash’s Intelligent Vegetation Management System (IVMS) uses high-resolution multispectral satellite images with on-ground reports to increase visibility of vegetation overgrowth near power transmission and distribution lines, the company said.
“It’s high time utilities start converting manual vegetation management processes into a data-driven exercise. Instead of being an inefficient and reactive process, AiDash IVMS aims at making it more intelligent and planned – reducing costs by 20 percent and improving reliability by 15 percent,” Rahul Saxena, chief technology officer of AiDash said in a statement.
Very High Resolution (VHR) satellite imagery, combined with new technologies, offers efficient remote monitoring capabilities like hazard tree removal, routine trimming of overgrown vegetation or other measures, that can be planned years in advance and enable companies to prioritize tasks and minimize manual, labor-intensive work, the company argues.
The companies’ proposals are required by law to be submitted and must be approved by the state public utilities commission before implementation.