Southern California Edison Submits Wildfire Mitigation Plan by Norris McDonald

 Southern California Edison has filed its proposed 2019 Wildfire Mitigation Plan with the California Public Utilities Commission.

The plan is intended to address and greatly reduce fire ignitions caused by utility infrastructure. It also is intended to further fortify the electric system against the increasing threat of extreme conditions driven by climate change and the impacts of wildfires if they occur. About 35 percent of SCE’s service area is located in high fire risk areas. 

The proposal is the first of what will be an annual submission of a Wildfire Mitigation Plan required by Senate Bill 901, which was passed last year and serves as a first step toward addressing rapidly growing wildfire challenges in California.

The Wildlife Mitigation Plan is part of a larger, ongoing effort and incorporates and builds on the $582 million Grid Safety and Resiliency Program SCE submitted last September to the utilities commission. SCE will seek opportunities to accelerate wildfire mitigation efforts beyond 2019 compliance goals in the plan where possible.

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The plan takes a broad approach that includes enhanced inspections on all of the company’s overhead power lines in high fire risk areas in the immediate term to identify and remediate potential issues outside of standard inspection cycles. It will further harden infrastructure, bolster situational awareness capabilities, enhance operational practices and harness the power of data and technology. 

The plan also includes specific metrics that provide transparency to the public and other stakeholders and will enable the utilities commission to evaluate SCE’s performance.

This year, SCE proposes to remove 7,500 additional hazard trees as part of the Hazard Tree Mitigation Program; replace conductor across 96 circuit miles; install more than 7,800 fuses on unfused lines; install 62 high-definition cameras and 350 micro weather stations in addition to those already existing in its network; and inspect 100 percent of overhead lines in high fire risk areas.  

SCE believes that the commission should deem that a utility has acted prudently for cost recovery if it is found to have substantially complied with its plan.

Initiatives to Further Harden Infrastructure  

Covered Conductor — SCE already has replaced more than 150 miles of power lines with covered conductor and continues deploying covered conductor in high fire risk areas. Many of the ignitions associated with utilities are caused by objects that contact distribution power lines or conductor-to-conductor contact. Covered conductor has proven to be an effective mitigation measure against these ignition sources. 

Current Limiting Fuses — The plan includes the installation of fast-acting current limiting fuses at thousands of locations. These devices will interrupt electric current more quickly and should significantly reduce the risk of ignitions when there is a short-circuit on the company’s distribution circuits. 

Automatic Reclosers — SCE is updating the protective settings for circuits serving high fire risk areas. It is adding automatic reclosers to remotely isolate portions of circuits when needed. This reduces the number of customers impacted during a pre-emptive power shutoff in high fire risk circumstances. 

Inspection & Remediation 

SCE has launched enhanced overhead inspections of its infrastructure in high fire risk areas. These inspections go above and beyond traditional inspections. The company is taking a holistic look at all potential challenges and working to quickly address any findings. This includes all the overhead assets it has across its transmission, sub-transmission and distribution system in high fire risk areas.  

Projects Increasing Situational Awareness 

SCE is deploying weather stations, advanced weather modeling software and computer hardware, and high-definition cameras.  

These technologies will increase the company’s ability to monitor weather and micro-climates in high fire risk areas, more accurately predict inclement weather conditions and identify and proactively repair equipment.                                        

By the end of 2020, SCE expects to have up to 850 weather stations deployed — more than 125 already have been installed — as well as up to 160 high-definition cameras providing coverage of up to 90 percent of high fire risk areas across its service area.

Enhancing Operational Practices  

Vegetation Management — SCE is proactively identifying and mitigating trees outside required clearances that may pose a potential risk to the company’s power lines.

Infrared Cameras – SCE is using infrared cameras to inspect its equipment to identify potential issues that could lead to fire ignitions. 

Temporary Power Shutoffs — SCE is enhancing its Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) program. This is an operational practice in which the company pre-emptively turns off power during high fire risk weather conditions to enhance public safety. PSPS will be used to complement infrastructure hardening measures when weather conditions threaten power lines in a way that presents an imminent danger to public safety.

SCE is committed to providing timely notification to potentially impacted customers, local governments, public safety agencies and the California State Warning Center before, during and after a de-energization event. The company also will continue to work with local governments and public safety agencies, as well as critical care customers, essential service providers and business customers, to refine the program.   

Public Outreach 

Last year, SCE launched a community outreach effort aimed at raising awareness about what the company is doing to address wildfire risk, particularly around PSPS. SCE is helping customers to be better prepared for emergencies and directing them to resources where they can receive aid. 

SCE hosted more than 20 community meetings and invited more than 1 million customers in high fire risk areas to participate. Company representatives met with more than 120 cities, counties and tribal governments. SCE also conducted dozens of power shutoff workshops with its essential service providers and coordinated with emergency management agencies. 

Harnessing the Power of Big Data 

SCE is piloting machine learning and analytics, also known as “big data,” to improve automated sensing of electric system and equipment conditions. The company is using data such as wind speed; conductor type, size and length; equipment manufacturer; type of transformer; and other factors, and is building its ability to analyze and practically apply patterns and correlations to the company’s operations.  

This big data effort will drive improvements in safety and reliability across the electric grid as these capabilities mature and expand. (CSR Wire, 2/15/2019)

Southern California Edison & Pacific Gas and Electric Submit 2019 Wildfire Mitigation Plans by Norris McDonald

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California’s second-largest power company plans to cut down tens of thousands of trees in high-risk areas, inspect thousands of miles of power lines and consider the use of preemptive power shutoffs this year, part of a $582-million plan to reduce the risk of fires sparked by the utility’s infrastructure.

Southern California Edison submitted a wildfire mitigation plan to the California Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday, as required by Senate Bill 901, which was passed by the Legislature last year. Although the Rosemead-based utility doesn't face the same level of fire liability as Pacific Gas & Electric — which filed for bankruptcy protection last week — Edison’s electrical equipment may have ignited the Woolsey fire, which killed four people and burned nearly 100,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura counties last year.

Edison already asked the Public Utilities Commission in September for permission to charge ratepayers for $582 million worth of fire-prevention projects, such as insulating exposed wires that could spark blazes, building more weather stations to better forecast fire risks and deploying infrared cameras to monitor equipment. The mitigation plan provides more details about what Edison expects to do this year.

The company plans to inspect at least 125,000 trees in high-risk areas that could topple into power lines, on top of its existing plans to remove or trim 7,500 potentially hazardous trees this year. The company also plans to inspect all 19,000 miles of power lines it operates in high fire-risk areas, with a more rigorous protocol than in past years, said Phil Herrington, Edison’s senior vice president of transmission and distribution.

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Preemptive electricity shutoffs are also part of Edison's strategy.

By de-energizing power lines during dry, windy conditions, utilities can dramatically reduce the odds of their infrastructure igniting fires. But Edison and PG&E have rarely taken that step, which can anger local communities despite the potentially enormous benefits.

PG&E canceled a planned power shutoff in the Paradise area just before the Camp fire broke out in November, and Edison is being sued by victims of the Woolsey fire who say the utility company should have de-energized power lines on the dry, windy day the deadly fire started.

California looks to electricity shutoffs as a faster, cheaper wildfire solution »

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At least in Southern California, preemptive power shutoffs may become more common. Although the company’s criteria for de-energizing lines won’t change, Herrington said the 850 weather stations and 160 high-definition cameras Edison hopes to deploy by 2020 “could easily result in more exercising” of preemptive shutoffs.

Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric also filed wildfire mitigation plans late Wednesday.

In its wildfire mitigation plan, PG&E said its plans this year include removing about 375,000 trees and installing 400 new weather stations. The company also said it is “significantly expanding” its preemptive electricity shutoff program and reevaluating the criteria it uses to make the decision to de-energize power lines.

The three investor-owned utilities have already begun many of the initiatives outlined in their mitigation plans, but they’ll need approval from the Public Utilities Commission to pass along any of the costs to ratepayers.

Senate Bill 901, the legislation that required the fire prevention plans, also made it easier for Edison, PG&E and SDG&E, to pass on the costs of some utility-ignited blazes to their customers. But those cost-recovery provisions didn't include the 2018 fires, which was one of the factors that led PG&E to file for bankruptcy last month. (Los Angeles Times, 2/6/2019)

Legislation Supports Wildfire Prevention by Norris McDonald

A state bill aimed at making big utilities' power equipment cause fewer fires, the Utility Infrastructure Safety, Reliability and Accountability Act,  SB1088, sponsored by Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) would change the long-standing practice of determining negligence.  The Center supports the legislation.  We support the legislation because California needs more wildfire prevention programs and activities.  Moreover, the current state of affairs leaves utilities open to bankruptcy due to payouts for wildfire damages.  Prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Some of California’s worst fires have been ignited by power lines owned by investor-owned utilities. The companies can be liable for millions or even billions of dollars in damages for lost lives, homes and businesses.  When the utility is found to be negligent -- like failing to replace rotting poles or securing lines -- ratepayers are protected from paying the uninsured costs. That burden falls on shareholders and company profits. 

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The bill would require the state Office of Emergency Services to set new fire safety criteria for investor-owned utilities to meet. Utilities would have to submit a plan to the California Public Utilities Commission every other year describing how they would make their equipment less likely to start wildfires.

The utilities would be allowed to pass the cost of the safety improvements in their plans directly to ratepayers. Currently,  costs for safety improvements are calculated every three years during lengthy rate-paying procedures before the PUC.

Under the bill, utilities that  comply with their plan would be deemed by the PUC to have performed in a prudent manner. That finding means the PUC could not find the utility negligent if its equipment caused a fire. And the cost of utility-caused fires in those cases would be passed on to ratepayers.

The bill passed through the Senate Committee on Government Organization Tuesday. It must still clear the Appropriations Committee, the full Senate and Assembly before it can be put before the governor to be signed into law.

The bill affects only the ability of the state PUC to find  that a utility was prudent or negligent. It does not directly affect individuals who sue an investor-owned utility contending that its equipment started a fire and that the utility was negligent. However, that finding before the PUC that a utility had acted prudently because it followed its fire safety plan might influence a jury in the utility's favor.  (KPCC, 4/25/2018)

California Wildfires Produce Pollution of 35 Million Cars in Two Days by Norris McDonald

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In California alone more than 140,000 acres are burning in large, wildland fires throughout the state. In just the past two days, fires in California’s wine country are thought to have produced as much small particulate matter as all the vehicles in the state produce in a year.

Although the early estimates are rough, the fires in the wine country have probably produced about 10,000 tons of PM 2.5, an air pollutant that’s the main cause of haze in the United States.

By way of comparison, it takes the approximately 35 million on-road vehicles in California a year to generate a similar amount of PM 2.5.

The amount of smoke is significant because PM 2.5 is associated with respiratory and cardiovascular problems in people.  

Smoke from the thousands of structures burned in some of the fires can be even more hazardous than typical wildfire smoke.  It is a little bit different because they had so many structures burn, that is a different fuel mixture ... a lot of that stuff has toxic emissions associated with it.  The smoke and fumes will be most hazardous to the people closest to the burning.  (USA Today, 10/11/2017)

Utility Scale Solar Reaches 40% Grid Power by Norris McDonald

On March 11, utility-scale solar generation in the territory of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) accounted for almost 40% of net grid power produced during the hours of 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. This is the first time CAISO has achieved these levels, reflecting an almost 50% growth in utility-scale solar photovoltaic installed capacity in 2016. The large and growing amount of solar generation has occasionally driven power prices on the CAISO power exchange during late winter and early spring daylight hours to very low, and sometimes negative, prices. However, consumers in California continue to pay average retail electricity prices that are among the highest in the nation.

Utility-scale solar generation includes solar photovoltaic (PV) systems as well as a few solar thermal plants. Additional generation from customer-sited solar generators installed in California (such as those on residential and commercial rooftops) further adds to the total solar share of mid-day electricity generation, while displacing demand for power from the grid. As of December 2016, utilities in CAISO reported 5.4 gigawatts (GW) of net-metered distributed solar capacity. (EIA reports installed electric capacity data in alternating current terms, which are typically 10% to 30% lower than the direct current capacities sometimes reported for PV systems.) EIA estimates that this capacity would have generated approximately 4 million kilowatthours (kWh) during the peak solar hours on March 11. This level of electricity reduced the metered demand on the grid by about the same amount, suggesting that the total solar share of gross demand probably exceeded 50% during the mid-day hours.

Total solar capacity in California (including both distributed and utility-scale systems) has grown from less than 1 GW in 2007 to nearly 14 GW by the end of 2016. Solar generation follows daily and seasonal sunlight patterns, peaking during the long summer days and reaching its annual minimum during the winter.

Electricity demand in California also tends to peak during the summer months. However, in late winter and early spring, demand is at its annual minimum, but solar output, while not at its highest, is increasing as the days grow longer and the sun gets higher in the sky. Although the sun is at a similar angle in September and October, electricity demand is still relatively high, leading to lower solar generation shares than seen in March.

Consequently, power prices on both the day-ahead and real-time CAISO markets were substantially lower in March compared with other times of the year or even March of last year. In March, during the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., system average hourly prices were frequently at or below $0 per megawatthour (MWh). In contrast, average hourly prices in March 2013–15 during this time of day ranged from $14/MWh to $45/MWh. Negative prices usually result when generators with high shut-down or restart costs must compete with other generators to avoid operating below equipment minimum ratings or shutting down completely.

Large price spikes immediately before and after mid-day periods when both utility-scale and distributed solar generation reaches its peak level suggest a need for dispatchable generation sources to help cover ramping periods, when the need for power from the grid to meet load is rapidly changing. Beyond solar output, the mix of generation on the system also affects prices. Notably, above-average rain and snowfall this winter in California has supported high levels of hydropower generation that may also be contributing to recent pricing patterns.

Source:  U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on  LCG consulting

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on LCG consulting

Source:  U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on  LCG consulting

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on LCG consulting

Source:  U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on  LCG consulting

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on LCG consulting

Source:  U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on  LCG consulting

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on LCG consulting

California grid operators have been concerned over the effects of the increase in solar generation on system operations for several years. The generation and pricing patterns that occurred in March and that may continue through the spring highlight some of the issues California grid operators will face in integrating large amounts of solar into their power markets.  (SatPRNews, 4/7/2017)

Aliso Canyon by Norris McDonald

A four-month gas leak at the facility near Porter Ranch from October 2015 to February 2016 spewed nearly 100,000 metric tons of methane into the air and displaced thousands of residents.  There is currently a moratorium on gas injections and withdrawals at the Southern California Gas Co. facility until an independent study determines the cause of the leak.

Officials with the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the California Public Utilities Commission have recommended that gas injections resume but at reduced amounts and lower pressure levels than those requested by SoCalGas.  

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Monday announced her support for a state bill that would stop the reopening of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility until the root cause of a massive leak that occurred there is determined.

State legislation is pending that would allow the utility to resume injecting natural gas at Aliso Canyon San Fernando Valley residents want to stop the reopening. (Los Angeles Daily News, 2/6/2017)