Fireproofing the California Electric Grid
Every year, skies darken over California with smoke from wildfires. Intermittent natural wildfires have biological benefits, but man-made ones—coupled with high-density populations in California—have made fire season a deadly and costly nightmare. The 2018 wildfire season was the most destructive and deadliest on record with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of almost 2 million acres. Even though only 1 in 10 wildfires in California are ignited by electrical power lines, a higher proportion of those fires grow into destructive blazes. In response to the recent ‘Camp Fire’ and others, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted unanimously in favor of statewide guidelines for power shutoffs, along with other recommendations including hardening the electric distribution and transmission power grids to prevent any sparks that may cause fires.
Investor Owner Utilities like PG&E, SCE and SDG&E have always employed strategic outages during dangerously dry and windy weather. This year that strategy will be expanded to include relatively rainy Northern California and may be utilized more frequently.
Another strategy will be replacing and upgrading power line infrastructure with more fire resistant equipment. Edison Power Constructors (EPC in California), a subsidiary of PLH Group, will be on the front lines supporting multiple California utilities to ‘harden’ their infrastructure. Typical fire-hardening efforts include:
- Replacing electric wood distribution poles with composite, steel or concrete poles
- Replacing overhead distribution lines with insulated lines
- Additional upgrades to Electrical Protective Devices
Elizaveta Malashenko, the CPUC’s deputy executive director of safety and enforcement said, “… the utilities’ efforts may be laudable, but their timelines for completion remain uncertain, as no industrywide standards exist for wildfire prevention.”
The long process of fireproofing thousands of miles of electricity delivery infrastructure is in uncharted waters but efforts by Edison Power Constructors [and others], who are on a mission to harden the grid, will hopefully make living in the California ‘fire zone’ safer for residents, wildlife, forests and the utilities alike.