NewEnergyNews: SoCalEdison’s Newest Plan To Mitigate Wildfires

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    Monday, April 12, 2021

    SoCalEdison’s Newest Plan To Mitigate Wildfires

    Southern California Edison 2021 Wildfire Mitigation Plan Update

    February 5, 2021 (SCE)

    Executive Summary

    Southern California Edison Company is dedicated to the safety of our customers and the communities we serve. In this report, we set forth our update to the Commission-approved 2020-2022 Wildfire Mitigation Plan (WMP). Our 2021 WMP Update builds on the successes of our WMP implementation to date, incorporates the lessons we learned during WMP deployment and reflects the continued progress we made in our analytical, engineering and process maturity in 2020.

    In recent years, Californians have increasingly experienced unprecedented and destructive wildfires that have threatened their lives, livelihoods and communities. 2020 was the worst year on record, with nearly 10,000 fires burning over 4.2 million acres and consuming about 4% of all land in California, which served as a stark reminder that evolving climate change brings more extreme weather and impacts. Prolonged periods of high temperatures and drought, record-high winds and lightning storms, significant buildup of dry fuel, and continued development in the wildland urban interface are increasing the number of wildfires and making them more dangerous. Action, collaboration and partnership among utilities, regulators, communities, agencies and other stakeholders focused on reducing the probability and consequence of wildfires continue to be of paramount importance.

    Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we met or exceeded nearly all the goals in our 2020 plan. We installed over 960 circuit miles of covered conductor, over 6,000 fire-resistant poles and 590 weather stations while removing more than 12,200 hazard trees that could fall into power lines and lead to ignitions.

    Our 2021 WMP Update proposes:

    • Additional grid hardening,

    • Enhanced inspection and repair programs,

    • Continuation of aggressive vegetation management,

    • Increased situational awareness and response, and

    • Augmented activities for Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) resilience and community engagement, particularly for underrepresented groups and our access and functional needs (AFN) customers.

    This WMP update also outlines how we have matured in our wildfire mitigation capabilities and our longterm plan to further advance our risk-informed decision-making, data management, grid hardening and community engagement before, during and after wildfire-related events.

    While we have made considerable progress, we continue to look for opportunities to improve. We want to thank California’s leadership — lawmakers and various agency personnel — for addressing this critically important public safety issue. We are proud of our partnership with local governments, first responders and the general public, who have come together to further reduce the risk of potentially devastating wildfires.

    SCE’S WMP REAFFIRMS OUR COMMITMENT TO WILDFIRE MITIGATION AND PSPS RESILIENCE

    The primary objective of our WMP is to safeguard public safety. This update includes an actionable, measurable and adaptive plan for 2021 and 2022 to reduce the risk of potential wildfire-causing ignitions associated with our electrical infrastructure in high fire risk areas (HFRA).

    At the same time, we are intensely aware of the impact of planned WMP work and PSPS events on our customers and communities, especially when compounded with the restrictions and disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our WMP aims to strike the appropriate balance between mitigating the risk of wildfires and these inevitable challenges, and we are committed to enhanced transparency, communication, coordination and resiliency to help mitigate the hardships caused by de-energization events.

    Other key objectives of our WMP include:

    • Increasing the resilience of our infrastructure to help minimize service disruptions during fires, regardless of ignition source

    • Improving fire agencies’ ability to detect and respond to emerging fires

    • Improving coordination between utility, state and local emergency management personnel

    • Reducing the impact of wildfires and wildfire mitigation efforts, including PSPS

    • Effectively engaging the public about preparing for, preventing, and mitigating wildfires in our HFRA

    In 2020, we successfully concluded or operationalized several WMP activities. 1 We have also added seven activities based on updated engineering assessments, ignition risk analysis and community feedback. Our 2021 WMP Update includes 39 activities that underscore our commitment to allocate significant resources to further reduce the risk of wildfires and support our communities. 2 We highlight some of the key activities for each of our wildfire mitigation capabilities below that were, in part, shaped by the successes and lessons learned since we started our targeted wildfire mitigation efforts in 2018.

    Grid Design and System Hardening: Expanded Measures Are Expected to Further Reduce Wildfire Risk From Overhead Electric Systems…

    Asset Management and Inspections: Structures Responsible for 99% of the Wildfire Risk Will Be Inspected…

    Vegetation Management: New Platform Will Increase Efficiency and Enable Advanced Analytics…

    Situational Awareness and Weather Forecasting: Additional Weather Stations, Satellite Imagery and Advanced Technology Will Boost Capabilities…

    Grid Operations and Protocols: Resources Dedicated to Refining Circuit-Specific Measures…

    Emergency Planning and Preparedness: Trained Workforce Is Ready to Restore Power and Assist Customers…

    Stakeholder Cooperation and Community Engagement: Strong Partnerships Increase Outreach to Hardto Reach Customer Groups, Provide Aerial Resources for Fire Agencies…

    Risk Assessment and Mapping: Improved Risk Models and Incorporating PSPS Risks Will Help Prioritize Work Even More Effectively…

    Resource Allocation Methodology: Risk Analysis Along with Operational Considerations Help Us Direct Our Resources…

    Data Governance: Focus on Data Quality Will Enable Next-Generation Geospatial and Risk Analytics and Automated Processing of Inspection Images…

    SCE IS DETERMINED TO IMPROVE PSPS PROTOCOLS AND MITIGATE PSPS IMPACTS

    PSPS is a necessary mitigation to protect public safety under extreme conditions that we use as a last resort. We recognize and appreciate the impact of PSPS events on our customers. Keeping the lights on, and everything else electricity powers, is in our DNA, and we do not take lightly any decision to proactively de-energize portions of the grid. Though the frequency and scope of PSPS events are expected to lessen as we execute our WMP activities, PSPS will have to remain available as a tool to mitigate wildfire risk during severe weather and high Fire Potential Index events. In 2019 and 2020, our post-patrols found approximately 60 incidents of wind-related damage that could have potentially caused ignitions, and there were likely many more that could not be observed after the events.

    Our highly trained PSPS IMT plans and executes our PSPS protocols designed to maximize effectiveness while reducing the negative impacts to customers, by limiting de-energizations to specific circuit segments and facilitating the swift and safe restoration of power. In 2020, we transitioned to a dedicated IMT model for knowledge continuity and operational consistency from event to event and to help focus on continuous improvement between events.

    By all accounts, 2020 was an extreme weather and fire season. In fact, five of the six largest wildfires in California’s history took place last year and average rainfall totals across Central and Southern California remained 50%-75% below normal through mid-January 2021. Such drought conditions, coupled with exceedingly low fuel moisture and very strong wind gusts, increased the risk for ignition and spread of catastrophic wildfires, putting us on alert for, and at times necessitating, PSPS events. Firefighting resources were strained in our service area and across the state, and the dry fuels accumulation increased the potential consequence of any ignition. The threats posed by these abnormal weather conditions meant that many customers were affected on multiple occasions, including holidays and while customers were trying to work and attend classes from home in compliance with stay-at-home orders.

    Despite the adverse conditions, 2020 demonstrated the extraordinary efforts of the women and men of our company to prepare for and conduct necessary PSPS to protect life and property, partner with communities, fire agencies and other stakeholders and support our customers in time-tested, novel and sometimes individualized ways. Compared to 2019, we were able to reduce the average duration of PSPS events by 33% and customer minutes of interruption by 22%. Of the circuits de-energized in 2019, 46% did not experience PSPS in 2020. We also considerably increased utilization of sectionalization devices to limit the scope of PSPS and the largest event in 2020 impacted 38% fewer customers than the largest event in 2019.

    We are investing in enhanced circuit mitigations, customer care, external communication, notification processes and technologies. This includes expanding circuit-specific grid hardening and PSPS mitigation plans, especially for frequently impacted circuits. For example, our current plans for 2021 include installation of covered conductor on more than 100 circuit segments that were de-energized during PSPS events. We are assessing potential expansion of this scope. We are also refining our PSPS thresholds informed by improved weather and fire modeling along with completed grid hardening. In 2020, we contracted with 56 Community Resource Centers, an increase of 300% over 2019, and deployed eight Community Crew Vehicles to provide information and services to customers during PSPS de-energization events and will continue to provide this support in 2021. In this upcoming year, we are expanding our customer care portfolio to better support Medical Baseline customers and help with community resiliency zones. We are redesigning our grid protocols and customer notifications processes to address specific concerns and feedback from county partners and are collaborating with heavily impacted communities for education, outreach and critical infrastructure planning support to help other entities providing critical services be more resilient as well.

    Of the customers who experienced PSPS de-energizationsin 2020, approximately 27,000 fewer customers are expected to experience PSPS events in 2021 under the same weather conditions. Almost half of these customers are not expected to experience PSPS again.

    Notwithstanding improved PSPS operations, more of our customers experienced PSPS de-energizations in 2020 largely due to weather, and our communication efforts did not meet the needs and expectations of our customers and agency partners. In light of recent feedback, we are taking a fresh and hard look at finding ways to further reduce PSPS de-energizations and meet community and regulatory expectations in terms of sharing our PSPS decision-making approach; keeping our customers informed more effectively; improving communication and coordination with regulators, local governments, fire agencies and other partners; and providing our customers, especially Medical Baseline and AFN customers, with more resiliency options and financial help. The action plan we submit on Feb. 12, 2021 will provide details on the concrete steps we will take to deliver tangible improvements. We can and will do better going forward.

    FURTHER ADVANCEMENTS IN SCE’S WILDFIRE CAPABILITY MATURITY EXPECTED THROUGH 2025

    We have made great strides in developing our wildfire mitigation capabilities, going beyond minimum regulatory requirements in several key areas, increasingly relying on data and advanced analytics to plan and prioritize resource allocation for wildfire risk mitigation and establishing robust operational processes for planning, preparedness and stakeholder engagement. For example, we have incorporated risk, as determined by predictive modeling of equipment failure and consequences, to schedule inspections. We are maintaining our advanced capabilities in several areas, including emergency planning and preparedness. One of the critical areas we are focusing on this year and the near future is better data management, advanced analytics and automation that will be foundational to our continued progress in grid hardening, asset management, vegetation management and grid operations among other activities…

    SCE DRIVES IMPROVEMENTS THROUGH APPROPRIATE USE OF METRICS

    Metrics and underlying data are critical components for WMP development, execution and evaluation, but we continue to emphasize that the near-term focus should be on efficient implementation of our planned activities, while the assessment of whether the activities are having the desired and expected impact on risk reduction should be measured over a longer time horizon. A clear distinction is necessary between metrics that can help monitor compliance with approved WMPs and those that can help evaluate the effectiveness of these approved plans and inform future WMP updates…

    WE WILL REMAIN ADAPTABLE IN 2021 TO IMPROVE AND ADDRESS EMERGENT ISSUES

    Our understanding of wildfire and PSPS risks and the efforts we need to undertake to effectively mitigate these risks has evolved over the last year based on new information and stakeholder feedback and 14 analysis, as discussed above. The scope and cost forecasts for 2021 and 2022 in this update are therefore different from what we set forth in our 2021 General Rate Case (GRC) filed in August 2019 and our 2020 WMP submitted in February 2020. We remain flexible to incorporate the guidance in our pending 2021 GRC Decision and hope and expect that the cost recovery mechanism approved there will reflect the dynamic scope of activities envisioned by the WMP annual update and change order processes. We will continue to reevaluate asset- and location-specific risks, benefits and mitigation needs, and will modify or adjust our plan accordingly to better utilize constrained resources and funds for risk reduction. Though regulatory and stakeholder expectations regarding wildfire mitigation continue to increase, we are always looking for operational efficiencies, and that aim — to prudently execute the appropriate scope of work — is no different for our wildfire mitigation activities.

    Finally, as evidenced in 2020, unexpected challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic may require us to change the work we do and how we do it, and we commit to vigilance and flexibility to meet emergent needs of our customers and the grid that serves them.

    CONCLUSION

    The 2020 wildfire season clearly demonstrated the continued urgency of wildfire prevention, response and emergency preparedness. Our employees work hard to help protect our customers and communities from the threat of wildfires. Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, we met or exceeded nearly all the goals in our 2020 plan.

    At the same time, we know there are areas for improvement and more work to be done. Our 2021 WMP Update builds upon our Grid Safety and Resilience Plan, previous WMPs and our 2021 GRC proposal, incorporating progress made and lessons learned regarding wildfire mitigation since 2018. It includes additional inspections and remediations in targeted areas based on emergent fire weather conditions, augmenting our system hardening activities to target higher-risk conductor spans, switches and hardware, providing aerial fire-suppression resources such as helitankers to fire agencies and establishing central data platforms for next-generation data analytics and governance. It provides a plan that effectively demonstrates prudent operation of the grid and customer care with measurable and actionable targets.

    We are committed to finding opportunities to reduce the impacts of PSPS events on our customers. With another year of PSPS data to work with, we will continue to review opportunities to accelerate mitigations for circuits that are frequently subject to PSPS events so we can reduce the size, frequency and duration of these events. We will be expanding our battery backup program to include all income-qualified Medical Baseline customers in addition to critical care customers. Community outreach will continue, especially to AFN customers, emphasizing both PSPS readiness and emergency preparedness.

    We look forward to continuing to work with state policymakers, local government officials, CBOs and other stakeholders to build a more resilient California…

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