PG&E’s Plans To Mitigate Wildfires
Pacific Gas and Electric Company 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan Report for Rulemaking 18-10-007
February 5, 2021 (PG&E)
Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan (WMP) continues many of the actions undertaken in our 2019 and 2020 WMPs, but also reflects an evolution to a more precise, technology-based approach to measure and mitigate wildfire risk, lessons learned implementing the 2020 WMP, and feedback received from the Wildfire Safety Division (WSD), PG&E’s Federal Monitor, and many others as to areas that we can improve and gaps we should address. As the devastating 2020 fire season demonstrated, California’s climatedriven wildfire risks are increasing annually, and only focused and sustained mitigation efforts will be effective at reducing the threat and impact of wildfires facing all Californians.
Our updated risk-modeling for the 2021 WMP benefits from both historical data (weather patterns, detailed information on previous ignitions, outages and other risk events, etc.) as well as state-of-the-art tools such as fire-spread technology that shows the locations where specific infrastructure failures can lead to ignitions that have the highest consequences for our communities. Leveraging this updated risk model and increased governance and oversight, going forward at least 80 percent of work performed in our key wildfire mitigation workstreams, System Hardening and Enhanced Vegetation Management (EVM), will be focused on assets in the top 20 percent of the highest risk circuit segments or in fire rebuild areas.
In addition, PG&E’s 2021 WMP builds upon the successes and lessons learned in 2020, as well as the feedback we have received from the WSD and other stakeholders.
Similar to previous WMPs, PG&E’s 2021 WMP has three overarching goals:
(1) reducing wildfire ignition risk,
(2) enhancing wildfire risk situational awareness, and
(3) reducing the impact of PSPS events.
In 2020, we acknowledged shortcomings and gaps in several programs where improvement is needed, including risk targeting and quality management of vegetation management work and the prioritization and execution timing of system inspections. These gaps were often identified as a result of feedback and input from the WSD and the Federal Monitor. We have listened carefully to this feedback and focused on addressing these gaps in 2021. The 2021 WMP articulates how we are closing those gaps and applying those learnings to other wildfire risk mitigation activities. In the remainder of this Executive Summary, we provide:
• Section B: An overview of PG&E’s system and wildfire threats;
• Section C: A summary of outcomes from the 2020 WMP;
• Section D: An overview of risk modeling and prioritization tools;
• Section E: Identification of gaps and lessons learned in 2020;
• Section F: A table and summaries of PG&E’s wildfire risk mitigation activities;
• Section G: A discussion of new technology and future improvements; and
• Section H: Conclusion.
B. PG&E’s System and Wildfire Threat Over half of PG&E’s service territory lies in the High Fire Threat Districts (HFTD) Tiers 2 and 3 as identified by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC or Commission) in 2018. 1 The wildfire threat in these areas has increased significantly over the past decade. For example, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that 147 million trees died in California from drought and invasive beetles from 2010-2018, which is just one of the factors that has contributed to the significant increasing in the size of the HFTDs within PG&E’s service territory. Unfortunately, 2020 was another unprecedented wildfire season with five of the six largest wildfires in California’s history occurring in 2020, all in PG&E’s service territory, including the first fire to ever impact over 1 million acres. 2 The unprecedented weather patterns, including late-summer dry lightning storms, that drove the 2020 wildfire season and continue to present significant wildfire risk and the need for PSPS events into January 2021 further indicate the unpredictable, dynamic, and growing nature of the wildfire risk we all face.
Approximately 5,500 line-miles of electric transmission and 25,500 line-miles of distribution assets lie within these HFTDs, roughly one-third of PG&E’s total overhead assets. Many of these are long lines that serve low-density, non-urban customers and communities located within the “wildland-urban interface,” who face an increased fire risk. Approximately 10 percent of PG&E’s electric customers 3 reside within HFTD areas, and with population migration brought on by COVID-19 and other causes, the number of customers living in wildland-urban interfaces or HFTD areas may increase in coming years.
C. 2020 WMP Outcome
To reduce wildfire risk in our service territory, PG&E successfully implemented our 2020 WMP and substantially completed, and in some cases exceeded, the 38 commitments made in that plan. Some of the 2020 WMP accomplishments in our largest wildfire-related programs include:
• System Hardening – Crews hardened 342 miles in HFTD areas, exceeding the 2020 WMP target of 221 miles
• EVM – Crews completed 1,878 miles in 2020, exceeding the target of 1,800 miles, including completing two-thirds of the work in the first half of 2020, before peak wildfire season;
• Smaller Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events – We took multiple actions that together made 2020 PSPS events 55 percent smaller than they would have been in 2019, which avoided a PSPS event for over 800,000 customers;
• Shorter PSPS events – Crews restored power more than 40 percent faster in 2020 after severe weather passed, as compared to 2019. On average in 2020, post-PSPS inspections were completed and power was restored for customers 10 hours after the weather cleared, as compared to 17 hours in 2019; and,
• Smarter PSPS events – Despite the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, PG&E enhanced our partnership with communities and customers with better information before, during and after PSPS events. Due to various efforts, including adding staff to partner closely with Counties and Tribes and improving communication and data-sharing tools, the overwhelming feedback from Counties and Tribes was that their experience with 2020 PSPS events was improved. Similarly, our tools and resources provided to customers were substantially improved, especially for those customers who depend on power for medical or independent living needs, and Access and Functional Needs customers. We know that the hardship to customers impacted by PSPS is significant and there is still much room for improvement. But customers are seeing our progress. In a recent survey of over 1,000 business and residential customers impacted by PSPS events in 2020, 60% of the respondents said PG&E’s handling of PSPS in 2020 was improved over 2019 (and only 10% expressing that it was worse). 4 Beyond the largest wildfire-related programs, PG&E’s 2020 WMP efforts delivered on nearly all of our commitments. Details of the 38 commitments from the 2020 WMP and performance are provided in Section 7.2.B of the 2021 WMP. We also identified gaps in 2020 that we are closing to improve our wildfire risk mitigation activities, as discussed in Section E below.
D. Updated Risk Models That Improve Quantification and Prioritization Tools…E. Gaps Identified, Lessons Learned and Actions to Resolve…1. Risk Prioritization of EVM Work…2. Quality of Vegetation Management Activities…3. Prioritizing the scheduling and execution of system inspections in HFTD areas…4. Addressing WSD-Identified Action Items and Quality Performance…
F. Wildfire Risk Mitigation Activities…Table PG&E-ExecutiveSummary-1 below summarizes the progress on the major wildfire mitigation activities undertaken in 2020, and our targets for 2021. As noted in the introduction, PG&E’s 2021 WMP is focused on three overarching goals: (1) reducing wildfire ignition risk; (2) enhancing wildfire risk situational awareness; and (3) reducing the impact of PSPS events for our customers and communities…
1. Reduce Wildfire Ignition Potential…a. Enhanced VM…b. Asset Inspection and Repair…c. System Hardening…d. Public Safety Power Shutoffs…2. Enhanced Wildfire Situational Awareness…a. Situational Awareness Tools…PG&E’s situational awareness tools in the HFTD areas include: • Weather stations…• High-definition cameras…• Enhanced abnormal condition or wire-down detection tools; and • Satellite fire-detection monitoring of PG&E service territory…b. Wildfire Safety Operations Center and Meteorology…3. Reduce Impact of PSPS…a. Smaller: Reducing the Number of PSPS-Affected Customers…b. Shorter: Reducing PSPS Duration…c. Smarter: Better Community and Customer Awareness, Coordination and Support…
G. New Technology Deployments and Future Improvements…
New technologies may meaningfully change the risk profile of operating our electric transmission and distribution systems in the high fire risk environments of Northern and Central California. Several system operations technologies that were initiated in 2020 are being further implemented and explored in 2021 and beyond. A selection of these technologies, which are discussed in more detail in Section 7 of the 2021 WMP, include:
• Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter – technology that has the ability to automatically and rapidly reduce the flow of current and risk of ignition in single phase to ground faults.
• Distribution, Transmission, and Substation: Fire Action Schemes and Technology) – an internally developed PG&E technology pilot that aims to use fraction-of-a-second technologies to detect objects approaching energized power lines and respond quickly to shut off power before object impact.
• Continuous monitoring sensors – measure current in real-time and report events as they occur. These line sensors are next-generation fault indicators with additional functionality and communication capabilities.
• Data Management and Maturity – PG&E is working to operationalize a data analytics environment that integrates asset-related information from disparate data sources into a single environment, which can enable improved, data-driven approaches to wildfire risk mitigation.
PG&E continues to grow and learn about wildfire risk itself, initiate actions that can best reduce that risk, and optimally targeting those actions. Although PG&E does not have a complete roadmap of all the actions and deliverables to reduce wildfire risk that will occur over the next 5 to 10 years; we have seen our wildfire risk mitigation approaches improve significantly in just the last two-plus years since the WMP process was launched. We are optimistic that improvements will continue as PG&E, our state, nation, communities, technology providers and others learn, adapt, develop and invent refinements, new tools and novel approaches. Going forward, as we learn of other improvement opportunities, we will similarly move rapidly to incorporate those learnings and optimize our efforts to reduce wildfire risk. There is much more work to do and we are committed taking those steps to significantly reduce wildfire risk and prevent catastrophic wildfires associated with utility equipment…