Three of the largest power companies in California expect to spend a total of $15 billion over a two-year period, 2021 through 2022, to prevent wildfire ignitions. In state-required updates to their annual wildfire mitigation plans filed with California’s Public Utilities Commission, San Diego Gas and Electric states they will spend $1.3 billion, Pacific Gas and Electric $10.2 billion, and Southern California Edison $3.5 billion.
The power equipment of the three utilities have been responsible for numerous large, disastrous wildfires.
PG&E, for example, expects to make the following improvements to their systems in 2021:
- Implement a new Wildfire Risk Model that can comprehensively assess and prioritize its safety work, including system hardening and enhanced vegetation management. This builds upon the previous model and uses advanced software and machine learning for predicting fire ignitions and improving fire spread simulations for determining the potential impacts of a wildfire.
- Install 300 additional weather stations to more precisely forecast the weather that could lead to public safety power shutoff events, to complete the long-term goal of 1,300 total stations.
- Install more than 260 devices that limit the size of outages;
- Install and deploy microgrids that use generators to keep the electricity on;
- Deploy more crews for inspection and restoration efforts;
- Convert 23 line-miles of overhead powerlines to underground in Butte County;
- “Harden” 180 miles of high risk lines;
- Conduct “enhanced vegetation management” on 1,800 miles of high risk lines.
The goal of PG&E’s Meteorology and Fire Science team is to advance operational meteorology and operational decision making to reduce wildfire risk. It is comprised of 15 scientists, most with advanced degrees in scientific fields with diverse backgrounds in operational meteorology, utility meteorology, outage prediction, fire science, data science, cloud computing, atmospheric modeling, application development and data systems development. The team is comprised of alumni from the San Jose State University Fire Weather Research Laboratory (https://www.fireweather.org/), former wildland firefighters, former National Weather Service forecasters, and Veterans of the Marine Corps and United States Air Force.