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PG&E updates and reviews PSPS protocol

Webinar review and updates PG&E customers on wildfire safety resources

Pacific Gas and Electric hosted a Wednesday safety webinar to review and update customers on ways to prevent and mitigate wildfires in the Sierra Foothills.

“We know the magnitude of the challenges we face,” said Johnnise Foster-Downs, the government relations manager in the Sacramento-Sierra division of PG&E.

Foster-Downs said aside from updating the miles of company infrastructure, it’s also racing against climate change.



“Our teams are working hard every day to improve the reliability of the electrical system and to reduce wildfire risk,” Foster-Downs said, adding that infrastructural improvements will help the company improve its situational awareness and focus Public Safety Power Shut-offs.

Since 2018, Foster-Downs said PG&E has added 24 weather stations, seven high definition cameras, five indoor resource centers and six outdoor resource centers in Nevada County.




The gas and electric company reported 36 line miles of system hardening, which can include sending certain power lines underground, Foster-Downs said. Twenty sectionalizing devices were added to the grid to keep essential services up and running during high winds.

Foster-Downs said over the last two years, PG&E has conducted 92 miles of enhanced vegetation management.

Rebecca Darrah, PG&E’s vegetation program manager, said PG&E removes 1 million trees annually to maintain clearance around power lines. Darrah said the management program has expanded to “remove defective trees affected by drought or bark beetle.”

Darrah also encouraged Nevada County residents to create defensible space, or a buffer zone between the home and surrounding wild land.

Darrah said some ways to fortify the buffer zone is to trim lower tree branches to at least six feet above the ground, clear brush and debris from gutters and trim grass to a maximum height of 4 inches.

Vegetation Manager Joanne Drummond said there are available grants through the Farm Bill to support forest land owners struggling to manage their property.

Drummond said the Natural Resources Conservation Service has an office in Grass Valley and administers a grant called the Environmental Quality Improvement Program, or EQIP. Cal Fire has a similar grant called the California Forest Improvement Program, or CFIP.

“It’s not 100% funded,” Drummond explained, adding that the grants really help property owners who are prepared to do the bulk of the clearing work themselves.

‘LAST RESORT’

Felix Berbena, a PG&E employee in Redbrook, said Public Safety Power Shut-offs are PG&E’s “last resort” when the weather forecast is so severe it could impact people’s safety.

Berbena said he understands how disruptive and challenging shut-offs can be, but sees a marked optimization effort from the company since last year.

Berbena said 2,036,115 customers were impacted by PSPS events in 2019. The average duration of 2019’s PSPS events were 43 hours. In 2020, 653,059 customers were affected by PSPS events, the average of which dropped to 29 hours.

Berbena said the company compares the peak wind gusts and damages incurred between each PSPS event. The time PG&E took to restore power between 2019 and 2020 dropped from 17 to 10 hours.

PG&E officials on the town hall Zoom call also announced a new 2021 program which offers generator rebates to tenants who rely on well water.

Patti Poppe, PG&E’s CEO as of January, said although she is new, she trusts that her team is committed to the safety and wellbeing of all of its customers and coworkers.

PG&E provides gas and electric to 16 million Californians over a 70,000-square-mile service area in the central and northern part of the state.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com.


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