NewEnergyNews: San Diego Gas & Electric’s Industry-Leading Plan To Fight Wildfires

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    Monday, April 19, 2021

    San Diego Gas & Electric’s Industry-Leading Plan To Fight Wildfires

    San Diego Gas & Electric Company 2020‐2022 Wildfire Mitigation Plan Update San Diego Gas & Electric Company 2020‐2022 Wildfire Mitigation Plan Update

    February 5, 2021 (San Diego Gas and Electric)

    Executive Summary

    The COVID‐19 pandemic, as well as social and political unrest, all presented significant societal challenges in 2020, while catastrophic wildfires continued to threaten communities and the environment during the year. In fact, the scale and scope of California wildfires in 2020 occurred at an unprecedented level. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s (CAL FIRE) website reports that the 2020 August Complex Fire burned over one million acres, making it the largest wildfire in California history. Indeed, five of the six largest fires in California history occurred in 2020. Unfortunately, these wildfires caused deaths and the destruction of property and natural resources.

    In San Diego Gas & Electric Company’s (SDG&E or Company) service territory, the most significant fire of 2020 was the Valley Fire, burning 16,390 acres and causing significant property damage, as well as the interruption of electric service after burning 119 wood poles. While the ignition of the Valley Fire, and many of the other major fires of 2020, were not linked to utility equipment, these fires and their consequences nevertheless reinforce the continued importance of taking dramatic action to mitigate the risk of climate change‐driven catastrophic wildfires in California, including potential utility‐caused wildfires.

    Safety is SDG&E’s top value, and virtually no activity implicates safety more than wildfire prevention. SDG&E has focused on wildfire prevention and mitigation activities for more than a decade, and it strives to be the industry leader in this area. In the aftermath of the catastrophic October 2007 wildfires in SDG&E’s service territory and across Southern California, SDG&E dedicated itself to revamping and enhancing its wildfire prevention and mitigation measures across a wide spectrum of disciplines and activities. Many of the initiatives described in this 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan Update (WMP or Plan), such as hardening the overhead electric system, are an outgrowth of the efforts that began after the October 2007 wildfires. And many of those initiatives were undertaken without any precedent or road map for SDG&E to follow.

    A prime example is SDG&E’s ability to forecast fire danger. SDG&E developed an in‐house meteorology team to forecast fire danger and enable the Company to undertake advanced preparations for severe weather events. SDG&E built the first of its kind network of dense, utility‐owned weather stations to provide detailed weather data across the service territory, which informs day‐to‐day operational decision‐making at all levels of the Company. Additionally – and as a last resort when conditions warrant – SDG&E pioneered the use of de‐ energization (i.e., Public Safety Power Shutoffs or PSPS) to protect public safety from major wildfires. SDG&E openly shared its experience, lessons learned, and technological advancements in weather and wildfire mitigation with other investor‐owned utilities (IOUs), state agencies, and stakeholders in the fire community, with the objective of improving wildfire prevention across California and the West.

    An effective wildfire mitigation program includes a safe and hardened electrical grid that is rigorously inspected and maintained. Informed by meteorological data, SDG&E developed xi design standards by considering the localized wind conditions for grid hardening. While SDG&E utilized PLS‐CADD design tools for its transmission line designs for many years, it began applying this tool to its grid hardening work for its distribution system, which improved modeling and designs.

    SDG&E also developed the Wildfire Risk Reduction Model (WRRM) to enable risk assessment and prioritize its distribution grid hardening approach. SDG&E has shared this work with other utilities, which has led to a similar statewide approach. The WRRM Operations (WRRM‐Ops) tool was developed in recent years advancing the use of the WRRM model to understand fire propagation and is used during live fire incidents. In the last year and in order to reduce PSPS impacts to SDG&E’s customers, grid hardening has included strategic undergrounding of the distribution system in the High Fire Threat District (HFTD) and instituting generator programs for some of the customers experiencing PSPS events.

    In addition, an effective wildfire mitigation program requires a wildfire safety culture that values life‐safety over reliability, and partners with stakeholders in public safety, academia, and the private sector, to form a fire‐safe community. Community collaboration and customer outreach are essential. SDG&E has continued its culture of engagement with the communities who live in the HFTD through conducting Wildfire Safety Fairs and community meetings. Outreach and collaboration with community safety partners led to the development of robust communications and a camera network to assist fire agencies serving in the HFTD areas. Among the many stakeholder collaboration activities, SDG&E established a Wildfire Safety Community Advisory Council (WSCAC) comprised of leaders from the following groups in the San Diego region: public safety partners, communications and water service providers, local and tribal government officials, business groups, non‐profits, Access and Functional Needs (AFN) and vulnerable communities, and academic organizations. These meetings are held quarterly and are highly regarded as an effective means to discuss wildfire issues and receive input from WSCAC members on relevant emerging community issues on wildfire safety and preparedness.

    SDG&E continues to innovate and improve wildfire mitigation initiatives to keep its communities safe through situational awareness, prevention, communication, and collaboration. Despite an unusually challenging year, SDG&E advanced its wildfire mitigation initiatives in 2020 and will continue to do so in 2021, as highlighted below.

    Risk Assessment and Mapping

    SDG&E continues its ongoing development and implementation of the WRRM and WRRM Ops models that began in collaboration with Technosylva in 2013. These models have become a template for the development of similar models across the state…

    Situational Awareness and Forecasting

    As a result of the hottest summer on record, well below normal rainfall, and nine Red Flag Warnings issued for the SDG&E service territory, the risk of catastrophic wildfires was significant in 2020. Due to fire weather conditions in 2020, SDG&E initiated an above‐normal number of PSPS events. But SDG&E was well prepared for the weather and climate‐driven events of 2020 through the significant enhancements it made to its situational awareness and forecasting capabilities before the start of the season. SDG&E’s weather station network, the world’s first utility‐owned network of its kind, is foundational to SDG&E’s ability to understand and predict the potential impact of extreme fire weather events and the localized impacts on the communities in the service territory. In 2020, SDG&E installed 30 additional weather stations, which was the largest expansion of the network since 2011, increasing the footprint to 220 stations…

    Grid Design and System Hardening

    SDG&E’s grid hardening initiatives began after the 2007 fires in its service territory. Since then, SDG&E has completed over 400 miles of transmission lines and over 800 miles of distribution lines. With a focus on wildfire risk and reducing PSPS impacts, there were several grid hardening accomplishments in 2020. Overhead hardening continued to progress with the completion of 48.8 miles of transmission and 157.6 miles of distribution. After developing the required work methods and construction standards, two miles of covered conductor were installed, paving the way for more installations in future years…

    Asset Management and Inspections

    To prevent wildfires and safely operate its grid, SDG&E conducts various mandated and discretionary asset management and inspection programs to enable identification and repair of equipment conditions. These programs include detailed cyclical inspections, infrared inspections, intrusive wood pole inspections, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) surveys, additional HFTD Tier 3 focused inspections, drone inspections, annual aerial and ground patrols, and quality assurance of inspections. New programs in 2020 included the drone inspections on the distribution and transmission grid, and infrared inspections on the distribution system. SDG&E completed drone inspections on approximately 1,450 transmission structures and over 37,000 distribution structures. SDG&E completed infrared inspections on the distribution xiv system for approximately 13,000 distribution structures. These new programs allowed SDG&E to more thoroughly assess the condition of its facilities.

    Vegetation Management and Inspections

    SDG&E continues to enhance its vegetation management activities. In 2020, the vegetation management program continued its success by conducting the activities of tracking and maintaining its database of inventory trees, routing and enhanced patrolling, pruning and removing hazardous trees, replacing unsafe trees with species compatible with powerlines, and pole brushing. This resulted in inspections of over 451,000 trees, trimming over 173,000 trees, and removing over 10,000 trees. This was the first complete year SDG&E pursued the enhanced clearance of up to 25 feet for targeted species, leading to over 13,000 trees trimmed and over 3,900 trees removed in the HFTD. SDG&E completed pole brushing on over 36,000 poles.

    Grid Operations and Protocols

    When an elevated or extreme fire weather conditions are forecasted, SDG&E remotely enables Sensitive Relay Profile (SRP) on its system, which is designed to make dynamic protective devices such as reclosers and circuit breakers more sensitive to faults on the overhead distribution system and activate quickly to interrupt power. SDG&E pre‐identifies and maintains a list of these devices and can quickly communicate with its distribution operations control center to enable SRP when conditions warrant and in observance of wildfire safety efforts. Enhancements to this process include generating a tool that supports a yearly analysis of every device in Tier 2 or Tier 3 of the HFTD to flag SRP setpoints that need to be verified due to changing load. In 2020, reviews and updates were also completed to maintain optimal operational logic for SRP. An additional enhancement was made to improve the configuration management process and consolidate the baselining of distribution line‐side settings into a single tool we use for other settings management. These enhancements provide a means to further ensure a safer grid…After a Red Flag Warning is issued by the National Weather Service, SDG&E follows customer notification cadences mandated by the Commission…To compliment the above traditional means of notification, SDG&E launched several new ways to notify and communicate with its customers in 2020…

    • Alerts by SDG&E PSPS phone application

    • Leveraging the Nextdoor app/platform

    • Changeable and moveable roadside signs

    • Tribal Nation casino and school marquees

    • Enhanced AM radio spots..

    • Expanded partnerships with 2‐1‐1 San Diego and 2‐1‐1 Orange County…

    Data Governance

    SDG&E’s data governance initiatives encompass both its enterprise‐wide efforts and efforts specific to wildfire mitigation and prevention. The enterprise‐wide initiative seeks to build a central data repository and establish an asset data foundation integrating key asset‐related attributes to enable predictive health analyses and risk modeling and improve inspection/assessment strategies and prioritization…

    Resource Allocation Methodology

    SDG&E’s resource allocation process is best described in terms of an enterprise‐level methodology and a program‐level methodology…

    Emergency Planning and Preparedness

    SDG&E’s Emergency Management department coordinates safe and effective emergency preparedness for the Company, customers, and emergency response personnel. To respond appropriately to any incident while adhering to the COVID‐19 conditions, SDG&E’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) developed a new response approach in 2020 consisting of tiered staffing plans, with a largely virtual response…

    Stakeholder Cooperation and Community Engagement

    SDG&E recognizes that collaboration, best practice sharing, and the exchange of lessons learned is of the utmost importance to protect public safety. SDG&E regularly solicits feedback from communities it serves in an effort to identify gaps…

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