USA – FRESNO, Calif. (FOX26) — Pacific Gas & Electric hosted a webinar for its customers in Madera County at 6 p.m. on Monday after its new system to prevent wildfires has caused prolonged outages for some in Madera County.
In late July of 2021, PG&E began adjusting the sensitivity of its electric equipment in High Fire-Threat Districts (HFTD) in order for its safety devices to turn off power more quickly.
“We have adjusted those relay settings to be incredibly fast, they will operate in about 1/10th of a second,” said Mark Quinlan, the VP of Public Safety Power Shut-off Operations and Execution.
This effort, know as Enhanced Powerline Safety Settings (EPSS), aims to protect customers and communities by quickly shutting off any lines that could ignite a fire.
“I want to make note this is not a public safety power shut-off event, a little bit different, this is an unplanned outage,” said Quinlan.
PG&E says the purpose of the webinar is to keep its customers and communities informed about this vital safety measure and the improvements it’s making to lessen the impact of EPSS.
In just over two months, Quinlan says PG&E has seen a change.
“We have seen tremendous results, tremendous results with respect to wildfire ignition prevention,” said Quinlan, “But the settings adjustments come at a cost. Because the equipment is operating quicker faster, it’s not operating as coordinated as it typically does so now smaller outages are becoming larger outages.”
For example, the Coarsegold Sub 2104 circuit has seen seven outages since the update.
“Seven since July 28th,” said Quinlan, “That doesn’t get it done for us, that’s why we’re here talking to you.”
Of those seven, each outage is impacting an average of nearly 2,500 customers for more than seven hours.
Take a look at this map showing the high fire threat districts:
“The red is the most critical at-risk and the amber or gold color is the second tier,” said Jason Regan, the Director of Electric Distribution System Operations & Emergency Management.
Regan says PG&E is addressing outages caused by animals, as well as 3rd party accidents, vegetation, and equipment failure.
And according to Quinlan, PG&E is investing in a stronger electric grid by putting power lines underground, installing stronger poles, and incorporating microgrids and remote grids.
“We can be better with our response, we’re going to be better,” said Regan, “We could be better at reducing the number of outages, and what we’re trying to avoid is that ignition source by way of our assets in your community.”
These adjusted EPSS settings are in place to mitigate heavy fuels which means, when fire season is over you can say goodbye to EPSS.
PG&E plans to go back to its normal system settings. That timeline is typically aligned with when CalFire declares the season is over, which will usually happen in December after we get some significant rain.